RNH – WTH?

What the H-E-double hockey sticks is going on in Edmonton right now? As of today the Oilers are tied for first place in the western conference with the upstart Dallas Stars and the Chicago Blackhawks. That’s right; the same oilers who have finished last in the league for the past 2 years! Can someone please explain to me what is going on with this team? Here is a list of the three players most responsible for the rise to the top of the Edmonton Oilers.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
RNH is playing an excellent brand of hockey right now averaging 1 point per game (5 goals, 6 assists) through his first 11 NHL games. With fellow first overall pick Taylor Hall and 2008 first rounder Jordan Eberle at his side, this seems like a legitimate first line, one of which the Edmonton Oilers have not had in past seasons. But it’s not only RNH’s offensive flair that is impressive but also his plus-4 rating. Hopefully Nugent-Hopkins’ hot play will continue for the month of November after being named NHL rookie of the month this October. The real test for this young line will be the upcoming six game road trip and if they can keep up the chemistry shown since the beginning of the season, they might come back to Edmonton as one of the best lines in the NHL.

Ryan Smyth
Captain Canada is back in Edmonton this year and he’s back with a vengeance. The 35 year-old is off to a hot start after putting up 10 points in 11 games (5 goals, 5 assists) during the month of October after scoring a measly 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) for the Los Angeles Kings in 2010-2011. Not only is Smyth back to his scoring ways but he is also helping Shawn Horcoff (who is also playing considerably well) mentor the “kids”, if you can even call them that and believe it or not but it seems to have brought out a younger and more energetic Smyth. The last few years the Oilers have seemed uninterested and seemed to lack motivation and energy during extended periods of the season and that is where I think Ryan will have the most impact; he is a player who works hard every shift and a true team player and people will be held accountable for their play while he is on this team.

Nikolai Khabibulin
This summer Oilers fans would have paid teams to take Khabibulin off their hands, but not anymore. The Russian goaltender, who last year was arrested for DUI while in the United States was written off by most fans as a drunk and a bum but has bounced back this year to put up unbelievable numbers. As of this writing, Khabibulin leads the league with a 1.12 goals against average and a .960 save percentage. If Khabibulin, who has a history of injuries, can stay healthy for the entire season I believe he gives the Oilers a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.

Key to being successful
As surprising as it might seem, the Oilers’ success is not entirely based on their scoring ability but on their defensive play. Consider this; the oilers are averaging 1.46 goals against per-game (1st in NHL) after allowing a 3.17 goals against per-game last year (28th in the league) even though their number 1 defenseman, Ryan Whitney, has only played in 4 of their 11 games this year. Could defense win a championship in Oil Country this year? Maybe this road-trip will give us a better indication of who these Oilers really are.

Predictions for road trip: 4-2

Mathieu Latourelle


 

Risky business

For the past couple of years, my dad, my younger brother, my uncles and I have participated in our own little homemade suicide pool. The format is a tad different then your average suicide pool. The difference lies in the fact that even if your pick is incorrect 1 week, you keep picking for the following weeks. At the end of the season, the amount of correct picks will be tallied up and a winner will be named. Last year’s champion, my younger brother, picked correctly 14 out of the 17 weeks of the NFL season. As for this season, I’m currently at the top of the standings with a 6-1 record entering week 8. It’s with this strong form in mind, that this week’s post will consist of my picks for all the games week 8 has to offer. I will then follow up on those picks next week to determine whether I should keep this segment or simply put it to rest. Let the picking begin!

Arizona at Baltimore
Simply put, Arizona has been horrible this season. They were, by many, considered the favorites to win the horrendous NFL West but through 7 weeks, they’ve shown that those expectations were far too high. The only bright spot, RB Beanie Wells, is unlikely to play this week which really hurts their chances of winning. Baltimore (4-2) should be a heavy favorite here since they bring a lot more to the table. Nonetheless, loses against Tennessee and Jacksonville indicate that they lack consistency.
My pick: Baltimore

Minnesota at Carolina
In what is a battle of basement teams in their respective division, I believe that the rookie QB that performs best will determine who wins this game. Cam Newton has proven that he has the tools to be a solid starting pivot in this league.
My pick: Carolina

Jacksonville at Houston
Jacksonville is coming off a win over Baltimore but let’s be honest, that doesn’t mean that they are now a forced to be reckoned with. Josh Scobee single handedly won this game for the Jags by hitting 3 field goals of 50 yards or more. Whether its at the hands of RB Foster or QB Schaub, Houston simply has too many weapons for the Jags’s defense to handle.
My pick: Houston

Miami at NY.Giants
Last week’s debacle at the hands of a poor Denver team and a rookie QB in Tebow, tells you all you need to know about the kind of season it’s been like in Miami. The Giants have been far from perfect (notably losing to a poor Seattle team). That being said, NY’s top talent (QB Manning, RB Bradshaw, WR Nicks) is the reason why they lead the NFC East and have 4 wins to show for this season.
My pick: NY Giants

New Orleans at St-Louis
This one is easy as pie. On one end, we’ve got the Saints who are poised to win a 2nd Super-bowl in 3 years. On the other end, we’ve got a young team who’s been underachieving and ravaged by injuries.
My pick: New-Orleans

Indianapolis at Tennessee
These are two teams who where simply embarrassed by their opposition last week. Tennessee is 4-3 which is mostly due to the play of their starting QB Hasselbeck rather then their ‘franchise player’ RB Johnson. The Colts, who are still winless this season, found out rather quickly that life without QB Manning is not worth living…at least not for this season.
My pick: Tennessee

Washington at Buffalo
These are two teams that came out of the gate firing but have since then slowed down. Buffalo, lead by their running game and RB Jackson, are looking poised to bounce back from their two previous loses. The same can’t be said for Washington who will be without star RB Tim Hightower for the remainder of the season.
My pick: Buffalo

Detroit at Denver
Seen as Green-Bay is dominating right now, it doesn’t look like Detroit will have a shot at winning the NFC North. That means that Detroit will need to wrap up the Wild Card and therefore can’t allow to let games like these slip away. As impressive as QB Tebow’s comeback was last week; he is a playing a much better football team then the lonely Dolphins this week.
My pick: Lions

New England at Pittsburgh
We all know how good Bill Belichick teams are after their bye week. That being said, I believe that Pittsburgh, who needs this game more then the Pats do, will come out firing on all cylinders. They’ve been getting back to ground and pound football of late with the resurgence of RB Mendenhall and their defense is rock solid as always.
My pick: Pittsburgh

Cincinnati at Seattle

A pair of rookies in QB Dalton and WR Green explain how the once lonely Bengals are off to a stellar start this season. At 4-2, they find themselves 3rd in the extremely competitive AFC North. That means that each game becomes a must win game for this young team. Seattle doesn’t have much talent to offer, but they manage to give good teams a run for their money week in and week out.
My pick: Cincinnati

Cleveland at San Francisco
I am calling this my first true upset of the week. The 49’s are playing way over their head at the moment and are bound to come back to earth one day or another. I believe that day is this upcoming Sunday. I see QB McCoy having a big day in the air, targeting WR Massaquoi and WR Little over and over again.
My pick: Cleveland

Dallas at Philadelphia
This is by far the best game of the week. Even with an abysmal start to the season, the Eagles still have a shot at making the playoffs. In order to do so they will have to surpass two teams, one of which being the Cowboys. This game has all the makings of an instant classic. There are so many playmakers on both sides of the ball that it could easily go one way or the other.
My pick: Philadelphia

San Diego at Kansas City
The Bolts are infamous slow starter which might explain a few blunders early in the season. This is the time of the year when they tend to elevate their game, especially when it comes to the passing game (QB Rivers and WR Jackson). Kansas city won’t be an easy team to beat, considering that they are coming off 3 straight wins. I may be a little biased here since San Diego is my team.
My pick: San Diego

5 rookies to watch during training camp

2011 NHL Entry Draft, 1st overall pick, Ryan Nugent Hopkins

Ryan Nugent Hopkins
(Edmonton Oilers)

Ryan Nugent Hopkins is this year’s first overall and like the many players taken at first overall before him, he plans on making the team right away. In fact, the last first overall pick not to start in the NHL the season that he was drafted was Erik Johnson in 2006. History of course is on his side, but do the Edmonton Oilers really have to rush their newest prized possession or should they send him back to the WHL for another year of seasoning? Like a lot of the other prospects on this list Nugent Hopkins dominated the WHL this season but unlike many of them he has yet to participate in the annual World Junior Championship tournament. The Edmonton Oilers will give Nugent Hopkins every chance to make the team and will probably keep him around till the 9th game of the regular season before making a decision on his future. If Ryan demonstrates good chemistry with future line mates Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, the Oilers will have to make some trades to free up some space for him at center by trading one of their current centers. If the Oilers judge that he isn’t ready for a full season in the pro-ranks they will not hesitate to send him back to junior thanks to the number of NHL-calibre centers they already have under contract.

Brayden Schenn
(Philadelphia Flyers)

Has proved that he is too good to play with players his own age, and had a successful 7 game stint with the Manchester Monarchs last year where he put up 3 goals and 4 assists. Unfortunately Schenn struggled during the 8 games (2 points) he started with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. The Kings’ brass opted to send the young center back to Brandon of the WHL (2GP,1G, 3A, 4 points) and was then dealt to the Saskatoon Blades and put up 53 points in 27 games (21 goals, 32 assists). Schenn took the World Junior Hockey Championships by storm last December and proved to the world why he is considered the best prospect not currently playing in the NHL, recording 18 points in 7 games (8 goals and 10 assists). Schenn will be given every opportunity to make the Flyers roster this season after being part of the blockbuster trade involving former Flyers captain Mike Richards but will have to deal with the scrutiny that comes with playing in a large hockey market and replacing the teams beloved captain.

Sean Couturier
(Philadelphia Flyers)

Another star prospect who could crack the Philadelphia Flyers roster as soon as this October. Unfortunately for Couturier, the Flyers are deep at the center position so he might have to bide his time as a winger if he makes the team. The hot debate concerning Couturier is that the Flyers can always return him to his junior team because he still has a season of eligibility. But would this be beneficial for the player or could this affect his development. Couturier has already led the Quebec league in scoring with 96 points in 2009-2010. He also got to play for the Canadian National Team (under-20) at last year’s World Junior Hockey Championships where he put up 3 points in 7 games (2 goals, 1 assist). Keep in mind that Couturier was the only draft eligible player on the team. He also won the President’s cup with the  Voltigeurs in 2009 and participated in the Memorial Cup tournament.  Personally I think a return to QMJHL would set Couturier back in his development but I see the Flyers taking a good, long look at him and let him play at least the first 9 games of the season (before his entry-level contract kicks in) and then make a decision based on his play against actual NHL players.

David Rundblad
(Ottawa Senators)

David Rundblad was drafted by the St-Louis 17th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and was later acquired by the Senators for the 16th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Rundblad had the third highest point total in the Swedish Elite League last year as a defenseman. It was the second highest point total by a defenseman in the league’s history behind David Petrasek who scored 53 points in 2009-2010. Rundblad should start the season with the Senators this season even though they have a lot of NHL-ready defencemen. I expect him to climb the depth chart fairly quickly and to end up on the second pairing by the end of the season. He should also see his time on the power play increase as the season wares on.

Ryan Johansen
(Columbus Blue Jackets)

Once considered the heir to the throne that is being Rick Nash’s future playmaking center, Ryan Johansen will not start on the Jackets’ first line this season. He will however make the team and possibly start the season on the third line. There is an upside and a downside to this situation. The upside: Thanks to the acquisition of Jeff Carter, Ryan Johansen will not have to be the face of the franchise upon his first game for Columbus. During his first season he will learn what it takes to be a pro without the burden of having to put up superstar  numbers. The downside: Johansen will have to learn to play a more defensive role than the one everyone was expecting of him before the Jeff Carter trade. All in all, I think Johansen will have a good rookie season and might get a chance at the first line center position if Carter and Nash can’t find any chemistry together. He will probably finish the season as the second line center.

10 rookies to watch during training camp (Part 2) to come later this week.

Mathieu Latourelle

Trent Richardson for Heisman: Reality or Fantasy?

Alabama running back and Heisman hopeful, Trent Richardson

Every Heisman trophy candidates list I’ve consulted since the beginning of this season includes Alabama’s starting running back, Trent Richardson.  My question is why?  This is a guy that came into this season with a huge amount of fanfare after having replaced Heisman trophy winner, Mark Ingram, who missed much of the 2010 season due to a knee injury.  While filling in for Ingram, he averaged a very productive 6.3 yds per carry and had 6 rushing touchdowns.  Even bigger things were expected from him this year, but he seems to have regressed now that he has been asked to carry the majority of the load.

Here are his rushing stats for the 2011 season:

DATE      OPP               RESULT    ATT   YDS   AVG   LNG  TD
9/3           Kent State      W 48-7      13      37      2.8       10     3 
9/10        @Penn State  W 27-11    26      111    4.3       22     2 
9/17        North Texas    W 41-0      11      167    15.2     71     3

Through three games, Richardson is still averaging 6.3 yds per carry and has 2 more touchdowns than all of last season.  When you look at these games closely though you quickly realise these aren’t very spectacular numbers.

The first troubling statistic is that none of the three teams they’ve played so far (Kent State, Penn State and North Texas) are ranked in the top 25 of the AP poll. Even worse, they have yet to face 2nd ranked LSU, 14th ranked Arkansas, 15th ranked Florida,  and last season’s National Champions, Auburn.  All of which, except for Auburn, have top 10 ranked defenses.

The second thing you must take into account is that the only game in which Richardson surpassed his average rushing yards per attempt was against a North Texas defense that ranks 120th overall in offensive yards allowed per game.

If you only look at the first two games of the season, since both defenses are ranked in the top 50, Richardson has clearly struggled.  His average yards per carry in both games combined are an un-heismanlike 3.5 yds per carry, almost half the amount he averaged last season.

Finally, how can a player that’s ranked 30th in rushing yards per game and outside the top 50 in all-purpose yards per game and receiving yards per game be on anyone’s top 10 Heisman candidates list.

Are Trent Richardson’s hopes of winning the Heisman reality or a few sports writers fantasy?  Your call.

Nicolas Latourelle

Game of the Week: Bills vs. Raiders

Will Marcell Dareus and company be able to stop Raiders RB Darren McFadden to start the season 2-0?

Buffalo Bills vs. Oakland Raiders

1:00PM EST. Ralph Wilson Stadium

Matchup:

On Sunday, two perennial basement dwellers will fight for the right to start the season 2-0 for the first time since the 2008 season when the Bills went 4-0 before crawling to the finish line and a 7-9 record. (The last time Oakland started 2-0 was in 2002.) In week 1, the Buffalo Bills ran roughshod over the Kansas City Chiefs, embarrassing them on their home field by outscoring the Chiefs 41-7 (the highest margin of victory of week 1.) This game could be viewed as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s coming out party of sorts. He managed the game perfectly. Fitzpatrick finished the game with the best QBR rating in the league (91.2/100) and the fifth Highest Total QBR in a season opener since 2008. (See below). However, there are still questions looming over the Buffalo Bills’ defensive line who only gave up 108 rushing yards to the Chiefs last week despite allowing an average of 169.6 yards per game on the ground last year. Is the defensive line truly improved or was that just the result of playing against an inferior opponent?

Total QBR Basics

Scoring: 0-100, from low to high. An average QB would be at 50.
Win Probability: All QB plays are scored based on how much they
contribute to a win. By determining expected point totals for almost any
situation, Total QBR is able to apply points to a quarterback based on every type of play he would be involved in.
Dividing Credit: Total QBR factors in such things as overthrows, under
throws, yards after the catch and more to accurately determine how much a QB contributes to each play.
Clutch Index: How critical a certain play is based on when it happens in a game is factored into the score.

Graph From <http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/6833215/explaining-statistics-total-quarterback-rating> 

Highest Total QBR in
Team’s Season Opener Minimum 20 Plays, since 2008

2008 Cutler, DEN at OAK 98.8
2008 McNabb, PHI vs STL 97.9
2009 Brees, NO vs DET 96.3
2008 Romo, DAL vs CLE 95.7
2011 Fitzpatrick, BUF at KC 91.2
2011 Rogers, GB vs NO 91.1

>>123 qualifying Week 1 games in span

Graph from <http://espn.go.com/blog/statsinfo/post/_/id/26299/best-and-worst-of-week-1-total-qbr>

As for the Raiders, they held the Denver Broncos to a measly 38 yards rushing last week, the lowest in the NFL, after allowing 133.6 yards per game on the ground last year (29th in the NFL). Therefore I expect the Raiders to keep Fred Jackson from obtaining the same kind of production as last week (20 carries for 112 yards).

The real battle this week will be fought between last week’s leading rusher Darren McFadden (22 carries for 150 yards) and Buffalo’s defensive line. If Marcell Dareus and company manage to keep McFadden in check, I believe that the Bills will win this game.

Prediction:

I believe that the Bills’ defensive line will be able to shut down McFadden for the simple fact that the Raiders do not have a serious threat at quarterback and thus will allow the Bills to focus more on the run. (Jason Campbell went 13/22 for 105 yards and 1 TD last week, which was the second least amount of yards thrown by a quarterback.) I also predict that the Raiders will be able to stall Fred Jackson’s production but will not be able to stop the Buffalo Bills’ now versatile offense led by Stevie Johnson and David Nelson.

Final Score: Bills 28 – 21

Mathieu Latourelle


 

Record-breaking performances in Week 1 of NFL season

They say records are made to be broken. This first week of action in the NFL proved us just that.

The much anticipated first week of the 2011-2012 NFL season blew past the most diehard fans’ expectations as it was packed with a handful of record-breaking performances. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:

QB Showdown

Unless you picked Donovan McNabb for your fantasy football pool, you will agree that it was a delight to watch QBs all across the league hook up with their receivers like never before and put up monster numbers.  

7,842 net passing yards were the most for a single week in NFL history.

906 net passing yards in Monday night’s matchup between the Patriots and the Dolphins. It was also the first game to feature both a 500- and a 400-yard passer, as Tom Brady passed for 517 yards while Chad Henne settled for ‘‘only’’ 416 yards.

500 passing yards in a game. Tom Brady became just the 11th QB in NFL history to achieve this feat, joining the select 500 club and the likes of Warren Moon and Dan Marino.

Patriots' QB Tom Brady had plenty of reasons to celebrate on Monday night, passing for 517 yards and 3 TDs in a 38-24 win over the Dolphins.

14 300-yard passers, the most in a single week in NFL history.

5 games that featured a pair of 300-yard passers, a first in NFL history.

4 400-yard passers, the most in a single week in NFL history.

Rookies Playing Like Vets

2011 draft class products Cam Newton, A.J. Green and Randall Cobb made sure to make their NFL debut a memorable one.

422 yards by Panthers’ rookie QB Cam Newton, the most ever by a player in his NFL debut and sharing the record for the most yards in a single game by a rookie with Lions’ Matthew Stafford. Not too shabby for the former Auburn Tiger and Heisman trophy winner who’s been widely regarded as a consolation prize ever since highly touted prospect and consensus number 1 pick Andrew Luck chose to forgo the 2011 NFL draft and return to Stanford.

108 yards kickoff return TD by Randall Cobb, tying the all-time longest kickoff return record in NFL history. The WR, who started out as a QB in his freshman year of college, fell only one yard short of the Eagles’ Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who holds the record for the longest play in NFL history since 2009 when he returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a score in a game against the Vikings.

41 -yard, game-winning touchdown catch by Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, the longest fourth-quarter game-winner in NFL history by a rookie in his team’s first game. The 6’4’’ wide receiver was held to only one catch in that game, but it was a huge one! Expect QB Andy Dalton to throw more balls his way this week against the Broncos.

All Out Offense 

752 points, the second-most on opening weekend and tied for the ninth-most in a single week in NFL history. That’s an average of 47 points per game.

89 touchdowns were the most in an opening week. A feast for fantasy owners!

Special Teams Gone Wild

63 -yard field goal by Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski tied for the longest field goal in NFL history. The Polish Cannon showed yet again why he is considered by many as having the strongest kick in the league. In 2009, he even lined up for a 76 yard attempt (yes, you read that right).

8 combined kick-return touchdowns (five punt, three kickoff) were the most in a single week in NFL history. Probably not the kind of result NFL executives expected from the kickoff return rule change. Either way, it’s entertaining. Keep it as is.

3 kickoff-return touchdowns of at least 100 yards. Once again, Ran-dall Cobb. Certainly a play of the year candidate.

Pierre-Olivier Gagne-Corriveau

The Gunners: Not exactly firing on all cylinders

After a dreadful loss at the hands of the Blackburn Rovers this morning, I’ve decided to elaborate on what’s been a horrendous beginning to the 2010-2011 season for the Arsenal Football Club.
Since the early 90’s, Arsenal’s been one of the most prolific teams alongside Manchester United and Chelsea. Terrific players such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Berkhamp and Patrick Viera have had a big role to play in Arsenal’s success. It goes without saying that players of this caliber are very expensive to purchase which is why teams with infinite budgets tend to be successful. Over the years, Arsenal’s ‘cracked open the piggy bank’ on more than one occasion. Thierry Henry was purchased during the 1999-2000 season for the sum of 10.5 million pounds. A few years later, the Gunners paid 11.2 million pounds for Aleksandr Hleb. Samir Nasri and Andrei Arshavin followed, costing approximately 15 million a piece. Arsenal’s always been a buyer rather than a seller. But that hasn’t been the case for the last few years. Out went the likes of Aleksandr Hleb, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure. In came young and promising players rather than pricey experienced players. Those players stepped up and were able to keep Arsenal afloat. When news came last summer that two of those young talents, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were about to leave Arsenal for astronomical figures, everyone expected The Gunners to use all the transfer money they had accumulated to buy the top available players. That did not happen. Arsenal only bought one marquis player: a star from the french league known as Gervinho. In doing so, they put a ton of pressure on their young talent (Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Frimpong, etc.) to deliver. A draw and a loss in both opening regular season games made Arsenal fans more and more worried. However, the tipping point was an 8-2 defeat against the rival Manchester United side. The tabloids and supporters were infuriated and pointed to the lack of spending as the primary reason for the team’s early trouble. In a last-ditch effort to save what seemed to already be a lost season, the Gunners picked up veterans Per Mertesecker and Mikel Arteta to stabilize the back line and the midfield respectively. All seemed good when Arsenal beat Swansea the following week and got off to a 2-1 lead against the lackluster Blackburn Rovers. That glimmer of hope was quickly eliminated, as Arsenal gave up that lead and managed to lose the game 4-3. They now find themselves in 15th place with what seems like an insurmountable 10 pts to make up in order to meet Manchester United at the very top.
Only time will tell us where Arsenal will end up. North London fans are speaking of the prospect of relegation. I think it’s an overreaction as Arsenal has too much talent not to participate in the Premiership. That being said, I don’t think they’ll be able to climb back up to the top, which is why I see them finishing 5th at best. Football has never been more competitive and exciting in the EPL, I’ll be watching and so should you.

Nicolas Rouleau