Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jorge Posada: Forever A Yankee

The pine tar on his helmet. The lack of batting gloves. The intensity he showed every time he took the field. These will be the lasting images of Jorge Posada. A catcher for 17 years, Posada announced his retirement from Major League Baseball on January 24. Although his talent faded towards the end of his career, his passion could never be questioned. For Jorge Posada, there was nothing he has ever loved more than putting on the pinstripes day in and day out.

For 17 years, Posada was a winner. A five-time champion, Posada embodied what it meant to be a Yankee. Hard work, dedication, and a refusal to settle for anything less than a championship drove Posada throughout his career to become a better player.

I remember joking around throughout his career about his particular proclivity for grounding into double plays, dubbing him "Secret Agent 6-4-3", but I always knew Posada could be relied on when a big hit was needed. Some of the best memories I have of Posada are his double off of Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning of game seven of the 2003 ALCS and his two-run single against the Rays in 2011 to help clinch the American League East.

Jorge, for 17 years, you have been a constant in the Yankee lineup. Although 2011 was a difficult year and you didn't play every day, having you on the roster still felt right. When the 2012 season begins and your name is not on the roster, the reality of your career as a catcher being over will set in. Although your career as a catcher has ended, your career as a Yankee has not. Jorge, you will be a Yankee forever.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The New York Giants Are Headed To The Super Bowl!

Lawrence Tynes sends the Giants to Super Bowl XLVI
Yesterday, the New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 for the NFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl XLVI. In a defensive battle, two key mistakes made by Niners punt returner Kyle Williams changed the game in the Giants' favor and set up two crucial scoring plays. On the first, a punt that hit the ground bounced up and glanced Williams' knee and was recovered by the Devin Thomas and led to a Mario Manningham touchdown catch which gave the Giants the lead. The second was a fumble that was recovered by Thomas which set up the game-winning field goal in overtime.

Overall, the Giants played a solid game on both sides of the ball, but will need to improve on running the ball offensively, and stopping the run defensively. The Giants struggled for most of the game running the ball. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw were stopped for very little yardage on nearly every run. Defensively, the Giants had a hard time stopping Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. If the Giants are going to win the Super Bowl, they will need to be able to not only run on the Patriots defense, but also prevent running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis from gaining significant yards on the ground.

One area in which the Giants excelled for most of the game was their passing game. Eli Manning picked apart the potent San Francisco defense throwing for two touchdowns and over 300 yards. Manning had a good connection with Victor Cruz who had ten catches for over 140 yards. If Manning can pick apart the Patriots defense like he did the 49ers, the Giants will have a good chance to beat the Pats in the Super Bowl. 

Prediction to come next week. On deck for tomorrow: A Tribute To Jorge Posada.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Devils Acquire Ponikarovsky

Ponikarovsky with the Hurricanes in 2011
The New Jersey Devils made a small move on Friday, trading minor league defenseman Joe Sova and a 2012 4th round draft pick to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for forward Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Ponikarovsky brings some scoring depth to the Devils, who needed help on the 3rd and 4th lines. This trade, along with the return of Travis Zajac after the All-Star break could make the Devils a solid four line threat.

This trade also allows the Devils to either send down or trade struggling second-year player Mattias Tedenby. Tedenby, who has only one goal, could be traded at the deadline for a defenseman.

After this season, Ponikarovsky's contract expires, and depending on his performance, could be brought back for around the same cap hit, which is $1.5 million.

Ponikarovsky's status for Saturday's game against Philadelphia is still up in the air, as an impending snowstorm could affect the status of scheduled flights.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Conference Championship Weekend

In the AFC, the conference championship will be played between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The top-seeded Patriots advanced to this round after a 45-10 thrashing of Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. Quarterback Tom Brady threw for six touchdowns, and later added a punt that was pretty impressive in its own right. The Patriots boast a two headed monster at tight end comprised of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. New England coach Bill Belichick used Hernandez not only at the traditional tight end position, but also out of the backfield. Another offensive player to watch for the Patriots is Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker. Welker, who is predominantly used in the slot, uses his speed to get open and create chaos for the opposing defense.

On the other side of the ball, the Patriots have one of the lowest ranked defenses in the NFL. That being said, they did a good job shutting down the Broncos, holding them to ten points. A few players to watch on defense for the Pats are linebacker Rob Ninkovich, safety Patrick Chung, and cornerback Devin McCourty.

The Ravens, who are coming off a 20-13 victory over the Houston Texans have one of the best defenses in the league, and are led by future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed at linebacker and safety, respectively. Some other standouts on the defensive side of the ball for the Ravens are linebacker Terrell "Sizzle" Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and cornerback Ladarius Webb. Webb is coming off a huge game against the Texans in which he picked off T.J. Yates twice. The Ravens will need to play some of their best defense of the season if they are to slow down the Patriots high-powered offense.

On offense, the Ravens are led by fourth-year quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco, who has drawn some critcism from the fans, media, and even his own teammates has a chance to prove that he can win a big game. The Ravens running game relies heavily on All-Pro running back Ray Rice, with some carries also taken by veteran running back Ricky Williams and full back Vonta Leach. A key for the Ravens will be to utilize Rice properly, meaning he should get at least 20 carries. A good running game will open up the passing game for Flacco, who has some good targets in wide receivers in Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, as well as tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

In the NFC, the resurgent San Francisco 49ers won one of the best games in recent memory over the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, earning the right to host the NFC Championship Game. Their offense is led by quarterback Alex Smith, running back Frank Gore, and tight end Vernon Davis. After three lead changes late in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game, Smith and Davis connected on a touchdown pass with nine seconds left in the game to win the game for the Niners.

For most of the game, the high-powered San Francisco kept the Saints in check, forcing five turnovers against one of the best offenses in the league. Leading the defense is All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, defensive linemen Justin and Aldon Smith, and cornerback Carlos Rogers. If the 49ers are to go back to the Super Bowl, they will need to do everything they can to make Eli Manning uncomfortable in the pocket and force him to make bad throws. Their secondary, which had 38 takeaways this season, will try to repeat their performance from last week.

On the other sideline, the red-hot New York Giants look to keep their perfect record in conference championship games as they try to exact revenge against the same 49ers team that beat them 27-20 in Week 10. A key for the Giants is to get the running game going early with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs against a defense that gave up three rushing touchdowns all year. An effective rushing attack will give open up the passing game for Manning, who can pick apart a defense of any caliber. If the offensive line can give Manning as much time as they did against the Green Bay Packers, Manning will have plenty of time in the pocket to make good throws to Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz downfield.

Defensively, the Giants boast one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Defensive ends Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Justin Tuck all have the ability to get to the quarteback on any given play, and will look to take advantage of an offensive line that gave up the seventh most sacks in the NFL. In the secondary, they have solid veteran safeties Deon Grant and Antrel Rolle, as well as cornerbacks Corey Webster and a much-improved Aaron Ross. The key on defense for the Giants, as it has been all year, is to get pressure on the quarterback and force him to make him make bad decisions.

With all that being said, here are my predictions. In the AFC, the popular pick is the New England Patriots. I guess you can call me a non-conformist, because I'm picking the Baltimore Ravens to go into Foxborough and knock off the Patriots, much like they did in January of 2009. The Patriots haven't beaten a good team all year, and although they have an incredible offense, John Harbaugh will have his experienced defense prepared to shut them down. I think Flacco will make up for his subpar performance last week with a big game. Although the Texans, for the most part, shut him down, the Patriots' defense is much worse. Flacco will be able to hit Boldin and Smith downfield for big plays, while Rice, Williams, and Leach wear down the defense on the ground. Ravens 35, Patriots 24.

In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers will have an opportunity to set up the first coaching matchup between brothers in Super Bowl history. However, the Giants will be able to create pressure on Alex Smith, and shut down the Niners' passing game. The 49ers defense will make the game equally as tough for the Giants, but Manning's experience will lift the Giants over the Niners in a defensive battle, and send the Giants back to the Super Bowl. Giants 17, 49ers 10.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Devils-Jets Postgame 1/17/12

The New Jersey Devils began a six game homestand with a resounding 5-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Ilya Kovalchuk scored twice for the Devils (18,19). Also scoring for the Devils were Petr Sykora (11), David Clarkson (16), and Patrik Elias (17). Scoring for Winnipeg was Tobias Enstrom (3).

Overall, the Devils played well in this game. Although the Devils were only 1 for 4 on the powerplay, they were generating chances throughout. Clarkson missed on a few chances early in the game on the powerplay, but the the Devils' dominant play set the tone for the majority of the game. The Devils' lone powerplay goal came from Ilya Kovalchuk in the second period, just after a 5 on 3 expired. A well placed wrist shot beat Chris Mason glove side, and gave the Devils a 4-0 lead.

The hot play of Zach Parise and Kovalchuk continued, despite the absence of center Adam Henrique, who missed his second consecutive game with a strained groin. Parise assisted on Kovalchuk's first of the game, after blocking a shot off the stick of Enstrom. Parise sprung Kovalchuk on a breakaway, which he finished for his 18th goal of the year, and gave the Devils a 1-0 lead that they would never relinquish.

Looking ahead, the Devils take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, who embarrassed the Devils two weeks ago at the Prudential Center, 6-1. If the Devils are to beat the Bruins, they will need to win the battle along the boards. The Bruins play a gritty style of hockey, and if the Devils can't keep up with the Bruins grit and toughness, the game will open up more for Boston's skill players to finish their chances and bury the Devils.

Coming on Thursday, my MVP for each team in the NHL, and some bold predictions for after the all-star break.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The New York Football Giants

Another week of playoff football has come and gone, and as I fan of the New York Giants, I'm obviously happy with their 37-20 victory over the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. That said, the Giants will have to make some improvements heading into the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.

If someone were to look at the stats, and told me that the Packers dropped more passes than the Giants defended, I wouldn't second-guess them. The Giants inability to cover some of Aaron Rodgers' targets could have proven disastrous, if it were not for some key drops by the Packers. Although Niners' quarterback Alex Smith doesn't exactly have the targets of Rodgers, the Giants need to step up their coverage if they want to advance to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. 

On the positive side, Eli Manning showed again why he is an elite NFL quarterback. He showed exactly why the Packers' defense was ranked last in the NFL in the regular season. Something that cannot be overlooked is the great play of his offensive line, which gave him seemingly all the time in the world on the majority of the Giants' passing plays. Manning made some impressive throws on third down, especially late in the game when the Giants needed a first down to put the game out of reach. 

If the Giants are going to win next week and go to the Super Bowl, they will need to establish the running game early and often against the high-powered 49ers' defense. If they can establish the run, they will be able to open the field with play action, and subsequently make big plays down field through the air. The offensive line will have their hands full next week against Pro Bowl pass rushers Justin and Aldon Smith, as well as All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis. 

On the defensive side of the ball, it  will be important for the Giants to get to Alex Smith often. They need to do everything they can to make Smith uncomfortable in the pocket, and force him to make bad decisions. The Giants' experience in the playoffs should help them against the 49ers, but will it be enough to help them advance to the Super Bowl for the fifth time in franchise history, or will the resurgent 49ers go back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the days of Steve Young and Jerry Rice? Only time will tell. Prediction to come on Wednesday.