Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Morning with NHL GameCenter Live

I've been meaning to do a post detailing a typical morning where I try to watch a full slate of games on the NHL's online package known as GameCenter Live (GCL). Lately I've been working at my part-time translating job so I haven't been following the games closely, but today promised 4 interesting tilts out of the 6 on the schedule, including my Stanley Cup prediction of Boston vs Los Angeles, so I'm going to try to live blog it.

There are only two early games: Toronto at Carolina at 7 pm (9 am in Tokyo) and the Rangers at Washington 30 minutes later. The staggered start times mean I can watch most of both games before Nashville at Calgary and Colorado at St. Louis face-off at 9:30 pm. Then Dallas visits Vancouver at 10 pm and the Bruins/Kings battle starts at 10:30. (I'm going to use North American times here.) So let's get going!

7:00 The Leafs/Canes broadcast starts. One of the great things about GCL is that I can choose either broadcast, and I'll take Joe Bowen and the Leafs here. Actually, I have no choice in this game as it isn't being broadcast in Carolina.

7:04 The Hurricanes are going for their 1,000th win all time, including their days in Hartford.

7:08 The Leafs are starting J.S. Giguere with Jonas Gustavsson on the bench despite James Reimer being called up yesterday. The Monster's confidence is shot, another in the long line of Leaf goalies who have gone from good to terrible while in Toronto (see Vesa Toskala). Cam Ward starts for Carolina. Hard to believe this is a battle of Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winning goalies.

7:09 Puck drop!

7:10 Bowen nearly has a heart attack as Dion Phaneuf hammers Tuomo Ruutuu at center ice. A great chance to use the 10-second rewind function a few times.

7:16 Tomas Kaberle gets 2 minutes for tripping after Jeff Skinner steps on his stick. Crap call.

7:19 Leafs kill it and almost score a shorty but Ward stops a Tyler Bozak slapshot.

7:22 Halfway through the first, Leafs being outplayed but Carolina having trouble hitting the net. That won't last long. TV timeout.

7:25 Another Leaf penalty. Another TV timeout.

7:28 Carolina scores on the PP when a Joe Corvo shot goes off Phaneuf. Ninth straight game that the Leafs give up the first goal. Last time they scored first? Against St. Louis, a game I was at nearly 3 weeks ago!

7:29 Clarke MacArthur and Chad LaRose have a scrap, more of a sumo match than a hockey fight. Give the decision to MacArthur and hope it insipres Toronto.

7: 35 I add the Caps/Rangers game on Versus using the picture-in-picture option.

7:37 Leafs finally get some sustained pressure and draw a penalty. But their power play is ineffective.

7:41 Joey Crabb deflects a Kaberle shot in with just 8 seconds left to tie the game. It's Crabb's first goal as a Leaf.

7:42 Face-off in Washington. Martin Biron in nets for New York while Braden Holtby starts for the Caps. I saw Holtby play for Hershey when I was in Charlotte last month. He won the game in a shootout.

7:43 After the first period ends, Toronto's Nikolai Kulemin is decked by Carolina's Tim Gleason during a scuffle. Looks like a broken nose for Nikolai as he leaves the ice bleeding profusely. Things are going to get ugly after this as Kulemin didn't have his gloves off, although he was trying to punch Gleason. I switch over to the other game.

8:00 Not much going on in Washington, shots 1-1 with 9 minutes to go. Back to Carolina for the second.

8:03 Gleason gets five and a game misconduct and Kulemin two (but he leaves the game), so the Leafs have a 3-minute power play to avenge their fallen comrade.

8:06 Did I say 3 minutes? Try 58 seconds after MacArthur gives it away to LaRose who breaks in and is slashed by Kris Versteeg.

8:10 Carolina scores on a wraparound but the ref doesn't see it. A seven-minute video review says no goal. Tough break for the Hurricanes, but the video evidence wasn't conclusive. Still, 7 minutes to make sure?! Meanwhile, the Caps and Rangers hit the first intermission scoreless.

8:18 Ex-Leaf Ian White takes a hooking call but Toronto can't capitalize. Carolina's PK is 25th in the league but that's because they've only played the Leafs once.

8:25 Versus replays the Gleason punch and Brian Engblom wonders where the Leaf tough guys were. Phaneuf was on the ice but just asked Gleason why he did it. Given nothing has happened in the second yet, it does appear as if the Leafs are going to let it slide. Frankly Kulemin learned a tough lesson: don't pick a fight you can't finish.

8:27 Carolina scores on a long slapshot from Jamie McBain that beats Giguere up high. Ugh.

8:35 Washington and New York start the second and Caps' tough guy Matt Hendricks tips a shot above Biron for the game's first goal.

8:39 Carolina goes down 2 men for 1:26. Leafs are 4-10 in this situation. Despite lots of pressure, Ward shows why he is an all-star as the Hurricanes kill both. More ugh.

8:47 The period ends with the Leafs short-handed and still down 2-1. I go back to the other game.

8:55 Caps' coach Bruce Boudreau interviewed and tells everyone "Not an exciting game". Duh. At least he managed to not drop any F-bombs (watch HBO's 24/7 if you don't know what I mean). Brian Boyle then takes a high sticking penalty for the Rangers.

9:06 Back to Carolina where Brandon Sutter scores 1:49 into the third to give the home team a 3-1 lead. The Hurricanes are 15-0-0 when leading after two.

9:08 Tim Brent beats Ward on a backhand shot to bring Toronto back within one. A weak goal, let's see if the Leafs can tie it up now. Lots of time left.

9:10 Crabb takes a stupid penalty to kill any momentum. Giguere makes a great save off Eric Staal for a whistle.

9:11 Wow! Off the faceoff, Phaneuf makes a slap pass to Brent who is breaking down the wing. He fakes a slapshot, gets Ward to fall, and puts the puck into the empty net to tie it up. A shorthanded goal, only the Leafs second of the season! A great play and we are 3-3 with 15 minutes to go.

9:20 Sutter scores on a Leaf breakdown. Still 11 minutes left but I fear that could be the back breaker.

9:25 Yep, that's the sound of the Leafs spine cracking. Fredrik Sjostrom takes a questionable goalie interference penalty and Jeff Skinner scores on the ensuing power play.

9:27 Another penalty, this time to Carolina. Last chance for the Leafs with just 7:29 to go.

9:31 Mike Brown tips in a perfect backhand pass from Brent, who is having a great period. 5:45 left and back to a one-goal game.

9:32 The Rangers/Caps game continues unchanged.

9:33 Aarrgh. Sjostrom takes another penalty. The Leafs must be the most frustrating team to follow.

9:36 I go to the 4 game screen to add the two games starting now. You can only listen to one, so I'll keep the audio on the Leafs game for now.

9:41 Carolina adds an empty netter to clinch it. An interesting game but the result as expected. There's 3 other games going on though. In Colorado, a long fight between the Avs' David Koci and St. Louis' Cam Janssen. The Blues lead the league in fighting majors.

9:45 Nashville is in Calgary with two Finnish keepers: Mikka Kiprusoff for the Flames and Pekka Rinne for the Predators.

9:46 Still 1-0 for the Capitals in Washington.

9:47 Jinx! As soon as I write that, the Rangers tie in when Boyle takes a shot that bounces in off a stick and then Marion Gaborik's glove. Video review confirms the good goal.

9:55 BTW, it's two Slovaks manning the cages in Denver: Jaroslav Halak for the Blues and Peter Budaj for the Avalanche. So far all 4 Europeans are perfect as both games are scoreless midway through the first.

9:58 Jinx! As soon as I write that, Curtis Glencross beats Rinne to give the Flames a 1-0 lead.

9:59 Two minutes left in Washington, still knotted at 1.

10:00 The Dallas/Vancouver broadcast gets underway. I'll be following this game closely as it features two of the top three teams in the West.

10:01 Overtime in Washington. The Capitals had only 17 shots, their lowest total of the season.

10:06 Thomas Gradin's #23 is added to the ring of honour in Vancouver in a pre-game ceremony. His grandson is on the ice in full hockey gear, a great touch.

10:10 A shootout is necessary to settle things between the Capitals and Rangers.

10:12 Alex Ovechkin goes first and is stopped by Biron. Wojtek Wolski scores for the Rangers, faking Holtby and pushing the puck past him.

10:13 Hendricks scores for Washington and then Mats Zucarello, last in the league alphabetically but first in shootouts as he is 3-for-3 after beating Holtby with another excellent deke.

10:15 Nicklas Backstrom beats Biron 5-hole to tie it. Holtby pokechecks Boyle and the shootout needs an extra round.

10:17 After Biron saves Marcus Johannson, Artem Anisimov comes through with yet another impressive deke to win the game for New York. I'd recommend watching the highlights of this one, poor Holtby doesn't know which way to go on any of the goals.

10:20 Crap, while watching the shootout, I missed Vancouver open the scoring when Alex Burrows beat Kari Lehtonen with a long shot. Meanwhile, the other two games are in the first intermission.

10:28 A rare giveaway by Henrik Sedin ends up on Brad Richards' stick and he dekes Roberto Luongo to tie the game. Dallas is outplaying Vancouver early, up in shots 7-1 but a Jamie Benn high-stick a few seconds later sends the Canucks to the power-play.

10:30 The Boston/LA broadcast starts just as the other two games return for their second period. I'll be watching 4 screens for a while now.

10:31 Ryan Kesler deflects an Alex Edler point shot and Vancouver quickly regains the lead in a game that looks to be as good as expected.

10:33 The Blues can't clear and Brandon Yip beats Halak from 45 feet out to open the scoring in Colorado.

10:35 Another Canuck powerplay and another goal. This one looks to be Christian Ehrhoff's on a slapper from the point. 3-1 Vancouver and not even 11 minutes gone.

10:45 In Colorado, St. Louis ties it on a great shot from Jay McClement. A video review isn't really necessary but is taken anyway.

10:48 In Calgary, Nashville ties it when David Legwand pushes a puck across the line.

10:55 After Joel Ward takes a high-sticking penalty, Jarome Iginla gives Calgary the lead when he's left all alone at the side of the net.

10:56 St. Louis' Eric Brewer comes in off the blue line and receives a beautiful pass, then snaps the puck past Pekka Rinne to give the Blues the 2-1 lead.

10:59 This is getting tiring. The Kings' Ryan Smyth scores a PP goal off a rebound top open the scoring. At least the Canuck game is in intermission.

11:04 Another power play goal, this time Colorado's Yip scores his second of the game to tie things at 2.

11:07 A good fight in LA between the Kings Kyle Clifford and Shawn Thornton of the Bruins, a couple of Ontario boys. Looks to be a draw.

11:16 With the Canucks/Stars early for the second period, the other 3 games are all in intermission. Time to relax for 10 minutes.

11:17 Nope, no relaxing as Mikhael Samuelsson scores a beauty from the left wing to give Vancouver a 3-goal lead.

11:30 Henrik Sedin scores to make it 5-1 Vancouver and this game turns out to be a blowout. It's fun to watch a good team like Vancouver who control the puck and are confident in possession. Watching Toronto is just depressing.

11:33 All games are underway again. I'll be focusing on the Blues and Avalanche as they're tied.

11:40 The Blues' announcer makes a terrible joke while talking about concussions. Relating that one of Blues lost 7-8 pounds after sustaining a concussion, he said "I asked where can I get a concussion...hahahaha". He then apologized but really the joke was not necessary. The hockey gods punish him by giving the Blues a double minor for high sticking.

11:44 Kevin Shattenkirk scores the expected goal to give the Avalanche the 3-2 lead with just over 9 minutes to go. Make a note announcers: no making fun of head injuries!

11:46 Power-plays in the other 3 games and Calgary scores on theirs when Brendan Morrison finishes a fantastic four-way passing play to make it 3-1 Flames with just 5 minutes left.

11:49 Colorado's Ryan Stoa sneaks one through Halak's legs, called no goal but it will be overturned on review as the puck is clearly over the goal line. It's 4-2 for the Avalanche as they score twice in 55 seconds.

11:56 Shea Weber makes a great skate save to stop Iginla from an empty net goal but Calgary holds on for the 3-1 win. I go back to the picture-in-picture and will watch the LA/Boston battle the rest of the way.

11:58 Oops, a bug. I can't go from the 4-game screen to picture-in-picture. Need to restart the browser.

12:04 St. Louis pulls their goalie and they score with the extra skater when David Backes pops home a rebound with 87 seconds left. It's not over yet.

12:07 Budaj makes a spectacular save in the dying seconds as Colorado holds on for the 4-3 victory as home teams are 4 out of 5 so far (assuming Vancouver doesn't blow the 4-goal lead). Only the Rangers managed to grab two points on the road.

12:10 Second intermission in LA, still 1-0 Kings. With the other remaining game a blowout, I'm going to take a break.

12:30 Vancouver have added a couple more to make it 7-1. Lehtonen is finally replaced by Andrew Raycroft. Meanwhile the 3rd period in the last game has begun and already a penalty against the Kings. Today's story is really the number of penalties, just tons of them in almost every game.

12:35 LA kills the penalty and Andrei Loktionov scores shortly thereafter to make it 2-0 Kings.

12:43 Vancouver gets their 30th win of the season in convincing fashion. Doubtless the favourite to come out of the West but there's still lots of hockey to play.

12:53 Damn, a phone call that lasts 20 minutes.

1:03 LA holds on and Jonathan Quick gets the shutout. I'm still on the phone. Ah, the problems of being unemployed. Anybody need a hockey recapper?

1:13 The phone call ends and that's it for this post! Six hours for six games. 33 goals were scored (I only saw 21 of them, using the rewind function to catch those I missed). There were 54 power plays, which averages out to 9 a game, and 11 PP goals (3 scored by Vancouver). Toronto scored the only short-handed goal.


Overall, not a fantastic morning of hockey; the Toronto game was the most entertaining but the result was disappointing, at least for me. Otherwise some fairly pedestrian action with the referees the most prominent players in several games.

When there are 4 screens going, you really can't follow the action closely enough to get a sense of the better team or the flow of the game. Still, it's fun to sit and watch all that hockey.

When there's more than 6 games, this sort of post becomes even worse and more disjointed (I tried it with 10 games first, then 8 and gave up both times). Today was nearly perfect with 6 staggered games.

GCL is best used when overseas, because there are no blackouts. When I'm traveling in North America, a game on Versus will not be available on GCL, regardless of whether or not I can watch it.

I love being able to rewind to watch goals or hits or fights and then return to the live action. It's so much better than live TV. If you are a hockey fan and living outside of North America, I'd suggest trying GCL. At $20 a month, it's a bargain. I think I got my money's worth for January today.



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