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Stanley Cup Predictions – First Round

Alright, time to put my hockey knowledge to the test.  My NCAA basketball bracket was a total bust, but with fewer teams and 7 game series, there is slightly less chance for upsets.  Nothing too in depth here, but my predictions for the first round of the playoffs, starting with the Western Conference:

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

On paper, this is a pretty easy choice.  The Canucks boast one of the best offenses in the game and no matter what you think about Roberto Luongo, he should be able to stop a Kings offense that has failed to live up to its potential and if he can’t, Cory Schneider is set to take over with his sparkling numbers.  While the Kings defense has been stingy and goalie Jonathan Quick could steal a game or two, I don’t see them beating the Canucks in a best of seven, especially with Daniel Sedin set to return.  Even without both Sedin’s, Vancouver’s going to take this one.  Prediction: Vancouver in 5.

St. Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (7)

The Blues come in giving up less than 2 goals per game.  Their transformation under Ken Hitchcock has been simply miraculous.  They have 2 strong goalies and an allow about 26 shots per game, compared to 33 for the Sharks.  The Sharks took it to the wire to even make the playoffs and they have struggled so badly on offense that I don’t see them beating the Blues in goals output.  However, I see a potential for a few OT games in this series.  The worry for the Blues is on the power play, as they are only running about 16%, while San Jose has a 21% conversion rate.  But, factor in that the Sharks have an atrocious penalty kill (2nd to last in the league) and I see those factors cancelling each other out.  I see the Sharks getting two wins, but that won’t be enough to save the team from getting blown up in the off-season as ownership realizes there is no grit/leadership in the dressing room to carry the team to a Stanley Cup.  Prediction: St. Louis in 6.

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6)

Man, I had to think about this one for a while.  The problem is that Phoenix simply lacks the offensive weapons to take over a series.  The Coyotes play strong defensively, and Mike Smith sure has been hot coming in, but they have a hard time coming back after going behind.   But I wonder if Chicago get it together on defense enough to actually get a lead.  Offensively, they are having some issues Their powerplay is atrocious and another potential issue for Chicago is their penalty kill, which is under 80%.  Part of this has been due to inconsistent goaltending, which is not a problem the Coyotes have.  This series could probably go either way, but Phoenix did own Chicago during the regular season.  I see a few OT games in this one.  Prediction: Phoenix in 7.

Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)

This is the year for Nashville, in that they must produce if they want to convince Ryan Suter and Shea Weber to stay.  They are the elite shutdown D-pairing in the league and with Hal Gill added to the backline (although he is questionable as I write this), the Predators look solid defensively.  In my mind, it really depends on if the Predators can take advantage of home ice and if Alexander Radulov shows up to bring the goods.  Detroit has an AWFUL road record so I can see them dropping the first two games on the road.  They have struggled lately and will be facing the best powerplay in the league.  I feel like getting the first goal will be key for games in this series.  Prediction: Nashville in 7.

And now for the Eastern Conference:

New York Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (8)

Quite a few people see a potential for an upset, but I don’t buy it.  The Rangers have a lights-out goalie and the 3rd best defense in the league.  The Senators have been a surprise team, led by a superb defenseman in Karlsson.  They actually score more goals than the Rangers as well, but I see that trend ending this series.  The Rangers just have too much talent and momentum to get upset.  The Senators could steal a game or two, but goaltending is going to be an issue for them compared with King Henrik.  Gaborik is obviously going to have to produce, as is the Ranger powerplay which needs to get a LOT better to win the Cup.  But the Rangers do well when scoring first and can protect leads.  I see them winning this round pretty easily.  Prediction: New York in 6.

Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7)

Some experts are picking an upset here, but I’m no expert, and I think it comes down to Tim Thomas outplaying whoever is in goal for the Caps.  Washington snuck into the playoffs with some help from Buffalo, so one could argue that they’re peaking, but I don’t see the lack of commitment disappearing suddenly for the playoffs.  The Bruins have a scary good offense when it is clicking and the Caps have been plagued by defensive issues since well, since forever it seems.  Special teams seems like a washout, so it comes down to drive.  Boston wants to repeat and expects to make it there.  Washington thinks they can surprise, but I think their surprise came when they performed so poorly all season.  Prediction: Boston in 5 with at least one blowout of the Caps.

Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)

I’m not sure if I would pick the Panthers to beat Ottawa if that was their matchup.  Martin Brodeur has been too good the Devils and their offense is getting strong seasons from Kovalchuk, Parise and David Clarkson.  Florida is going to need to score a lot of goals and I don’t see that happening as they lack a 30-goal scorer.  Too bad though, as they are a promising team that has gotten strong goaltending all around (I think Jakob Markstrom is going to be a solid #1 in a year or so for someone).  New Jersey has the best penalty kill in the league, so I don’t see Florida winning the special teams battle.  Better luck next year.  Prediction: New Jersey in 5.

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)

The matchup I love to hate.  As a Penguins fan, I’m confident we can beat any team 4 out of 7 times, but the Flyers are such a huge rivalry that it makes it a simply brutal first round matchup.  Whoever comes out of this is going to be hurting, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the playoffs, unless say they match up against the Senators (unlikely).  What’s left to say about these teams?  The Penguins have the scariest offense in the game with an absurd power play.  When they are firing on all cylinders, they are a Cup team.  However, the Flyers are strong, nasty and have plenty of talent.  Scott Hartnell has taken his game to another level and is poised to take over the first round.  My hope is that we avoid any injuries to key players and win the battle on special teams and that Philadelphia’s goaltending playoff woes continue here.  Here’s to possibly the best series we’ll see this year.  Prediction: Penguins in 7.

Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – Stake Land

Movie poster for the movie Stake Land.

Movie poster for the movie Stake Land. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*This is a day early because I missed last week and have a Stanley Cup Playoff prediction post coming tomorrow night.

Apocalyptic thrillers usually fall into one of two categories, the “road” movie or the “hideout” movie.  Great example of the “hideout” movie would be “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead.”  The “road” movie involves well, “The Road” and other films in which characters try and reach some sort of destination.  “The Road” was essentially a zombie film, with dangerous cults filling in for the zombies.  To imagine “Stake Land“, think “The Road” which vampires.  There’s actually a lot of similarities.  There’s a man, and a boy.  The man’s name is “Mister”, that’s as close as we get to a name and although the boy with him isn’t his son, he’s essentially taken the role of father/protector.

And yes, the movie has vampires.  In the opening scene, we’re treated to an incredibly NASTY attack on a family, which really surprised me in that it sort of involved an unwritten (kind of) rule about horror movie kills.  Let’s just say this moment tells you that this movie is for real (as real as you could get anyway in a movie about vampires) and it won’t hold back in terms of killing anyone.

The boy and Mister set out for a location called “New Eden”, which is fitting considering the dangerous religious fanatics they encounter along the way.  Since vampires themselves are usually just scary, and not so much evil, the movie uses the religious group to add some psychology to the savagery, much like “The Road” made it scary because the cults were cannibals and you didn’t want to be eaten by other human beings.

Like “The Road” much of the film is set in dark tones, there is a lot of darkness, grays, browns, no real signs of anything living, very little vegetation.  It’s a cold “literally” world that involves some small towns/pockets of survivors, but there is fairly little dialogue, characters aren’t expanded upon that well.  I guess that’s the one flaw of this film.  We like horror movies because they put characters in danger, but if you don’t really care about/get to know them, then it’s a wasted exercise.  I enjoyed the film, but some moments would have been heightened simply had I known more about certain people.

However, I will say that the ending is satisfying and carries with it some not so subtle religious undertones, which is interesting because of the way the film handles religion earlier.  There is actually a really poignant moment during the final showdown, which I had to watch twice to make sure that I had seen what I thought I’d seen.  While “Stake Land” isn’t perfect or prophetic, it’s a more than competent genre exercise.  It’s only drawback is that it has come after so many others, that it seems like it’s simply retreading old territory.  If you can get past the fact, and if you’re in the mood for a movie like this, then it’s pretty darn good.

Beer #21 – Lakefront IPA

Wisconsin, the home of the brewers, and I don’t just mean the baseball team.  It’s got a LOT of breweries, some of them making very good beers.  And so we dive back into IPA season with the IPA from Lakefront Brewery.

Lakefront IPA, Lakefront BreweryWisconsin, United States of A
American India Pale Ale, 6.9 % ABV

Aroma: Great hop aroma, with hint of grass and malts.

Appearance: Pours golden/copper in color, clear, with an off-white head of foam.  Nice lacing on the glass.

Flavor: Nice hop profile, piney essence to it that is balanced on the end with malts and a trailing very nice bitter hop finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, coats the mouth well with nice carbonation that I’d expect from an IPA.

Overall: Pretty solid IPA.  The nose doesn’t linger too strong, the alcohol is present but not overwhelming.  For a hop head, it’s got a great profile and solid taste.  A very nice/great example of the American IPA style.

Beer #20 – Dixie Slow Brewed Beer

I did not know this, but the Dixie Brewing Company does not actually exist as a location anymore.  It was shut down after Katrina but never rebuilt itself as an actual brewery.  However, the name still exists and the brand is contracted out, so they are brewing beer under the name, but at other locations (such as the Joseph Hube Brewing Company in Wisconsin).  That’s sad because I really enjoyed their Blackened Voodoo Lager and I like to support craft breweries.  I hope that someday they’re able to re-open their location in New Orleans, but until then, we’ll take in brews like their Slow Brewed Beer, from other  locations.

Dixie Slow Brewed Beer, Dixie Brewing CompanyLouisiana, United States of A
American Lager, 4.5 % ABV

Aroma: Grassy hops, faint malts.

Appearance: Pours faint yellow, with a large head that quickly dissipates into almost nothing, completely translucent.

Flavor: Nothing too heavy, a balance of malt and hops with a more dominant hop profile, and then a faint hint of malt sweetness on the finish with a dash of citrus hops bittnerness.  Tastes like the corn/grain mass market beers.

Mouthfeel: Incredibly light, decent carbonation.

Overall: For the style, it fits perfectly.  It’s drinkable and light, easily a session beer.  However, I like more flavor in my beer and the lack of malt profile and the domination of grain flavor makes this a beer I wouldn’t drink again.  For someone who wants a craft Bud or PBR clone, then this is your beer.  For me, not so much.

A (questionable) study on barefoot running…actually it’s just dumb

*Note, if you’re pressed for time/have ADD, read the first few paragraphs and then go to my conclusion at the bottom.

I was reading Men’s Health and came across the following article on barefoot running.   I won’t rehash the article, but based on the study it cites, is proposes that that barefoot running is no more efficient (meaning the amount of energy you’re expending) than running in shoes and in fact, it might increase your energy consumption.  Based on what I read about the study, I was a little skeptical, so I pulled up this article, which goes into more detail.  Now, if you read that article, what it really comes down to is the following conclusion:

Running in lightweight shoes requires 3-4 percent less energy than running barefoot. 

So we’re going to do a thought experiment, go through the study and see how they got to this conclusion and if it’s really anything you should be paying attention to (i.e. be featured in Men’s Health).

First, we’ll start with the research question.  Is barefoot running more efficient?  Well, more efficient than what?  The study envisions the efficiency argument as “how much oxygen people consume (and how much carbon dioxide they produce)” while they run.  That’s a fine measure for me.  However, let’s be clear about what we’re testing.  Barefoot vs. lightweight shoes, barefoot vs. regular shoes?  The point of barefoot/minimalist running is that it’s supposed to increase efficiency by encouraging midfoot strikes and good running form.  Advocates argue that having less support allows your foot to land less on the heel (which acts as a brake and decreases efficiency, and was advocated by Nike and other inventors of the popular running shoes with tons of cushioning) and more on the midfoot, which increases your stride and allows you to run more efficiently.  Basically, land on your midfoot=get that 180 stride goal.  So really, what I think the researchers first missed is that point of running barefoot/minimalist.  It’s easier to get to the 180 stride goal, thus is more efficient.

What I think they should have done rather was track the amount of energy spent maintaining the 180 stride goal in shoes as opposed to running barefoot or in minimalist shoes.  But they did not, so we’ll move on.

So they get a bunch of males who are experienced barefoot runners and have them run on a treadmill.  There’s the first problem.  The running mechanics for running on a treadmill versus running outside are totally different.  A treadmill forces you to keep up with the speed of the machine while running outside forces you to propel yourself forward while the ground stays in one place.  But we’ll move on.

They had the runners run in yoga socks on the treadmill, and counted that as “barefoot” running.  Then, they had them use shoes.  The shoes they wore were Nike minimalist shoes that clocked in at 150 grams.  STOP.  The shoes they are using as the “shoe” control are in fact, designed to encourage a midfoot strike and 180 strides, JUST LIKE RUNNING BAREFOOT.  This part of the study is poorly designed because the appeal of barefoot running and the barefoot running movement isn’t founded on being an alternative to MINIMALIST SHOES that weigh 5oz per shoe, but rather, an alternative to standard running shoes that weigh around 14oz per shoe.

But, moving on.  The runners run in barefoot and with the Mayfly shoe.  Then the researchers start to add weights to their feet, I assume in order to simulate the weight of wearing a shoe.  So what happens is, they have people running in socks, they attach weights to the socks equal to that of the Mayfly shoe, and they compare THAT to running IN THE SHOE!  It’s a ridiculous comparison.  Running with weights attached to your foot in equal amount to a shoe, does not equal the same mechanic/situation as running with the shoe.  From the article:

When subjects ran barefoot with an additional 150 grams of weight added to their feet, about the same amount of weight as a Mayfly running shoe, they were 3 to 4 percent less efficient than when they wore the Mayfly, according to the study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.  The reason why is the subjects of another study at the Locomotion Lab. The research has yet to be completed, but Franz said that he thinks the drop in efficiency may have to do with the need for barefoot runners to compensate when the cushioning of the shoe is removed.

NO.  The reason why is probably because attaching weights to a foot is not the same as having it run in a shoe.  This study really does nothing to solve the debate on whether running barefoot is *better* than running in regular running shoes and even if its methods were better, its findings are really insignificant to the average person who is thinking about switching from 14oz to 5oz shoes.

Really, the problem is that they are simply misunderstanding the barefoot claim.  The barefoot claim is really more of a midfoot/stride/form claim.  It says that in order to hit the optimal stride, you should run in a light shoe that encourages a midfoot vs. heel strike and 180 strikes per minute.  These researchers are trying to pull apart the mass vs. shoe impact, which is stupid because the barefoot purpose is not to make you more efficient than running with weights LITERALLY attached to your socks (like they did in the study).

Conclusion:

Pulling apart (studying) the weight vs. shoe mass effects is STUPID because the separation of the two NEVER occurs in real life.  Runners add shoes, then they add weight.  No one considering switching to barefoot running is going to add WEIGHT WITHOUT SHOES.  This study is dumb.

Thoughts on running, salad, and hummus.

These things are related, I swear.

I hit a little running snag when I got sick and then went on vacation.  Since I’ve got the Pittsburgh half marathon coming up in a little over a month, I need to get back into running shape.  My goal is to finish this half in under 2 hours, which is about a 9:05 pace.  So my runs lately have been at a pace even quicker than that, which may not be smart, but ever since I’ve tried to work on my running form in my minimalist running shoes, I find myself running pretty well at around 8:45 for short runs.  But of course 3 miles is a long way from 13, so I need to get in some longer runs.  Today, I hit the park after work (keep in mind, on my grad student schedule, “after work” means like 4pm) with the goal of running at least 3 miles and then just going until it didn’t seem fun anymore.

So quick note on that last sentence.  After reading “Born to Run” I’ve been trying to have a new outlook on running.  Yes, I’m aiming for a pace goal for Pittsburgh, but I want to have fun running.  I want to lace up my shoes, hit the ground, and enjoy the feeling of running.  I’m mostly a guy who gravitates towards team sports like soccer and hockey, so individual trials are more difficult for me to get into.  But I think that if I can run fast and smooth, then I will get more enjoyment out of running, because I like to do things at a pretty good clip.  So today I knocked out 6 miles at a 8:24 pace.  If I can sustain that for 13 miles, I’m well under 2 hours.  We’ll see.  But this run felt really good.  My feet didn’t hurt, my legs didn’t hurt, I was breathing hard but I liked that.  The reason I stopped at six was well, I had no more energy because I had a salad for lunch.

Not that this salad was just leaves.  It was dark green leaves, topped with yellow pepper, chick peas, carrots, tuna, olive oil and vinegar.  It was solid.  But why salads?  Well, in “Born to Run” the author floats the idea of eating salads for breakfast because you can pack a lot of nutritional punch into one and not feel like you’ve eaten something too heavy.  Now, I’m not going to eat a salad before running in the morning and it’s definitely not my recovery meal of choice, so I was thinking about how to fit them in.  Since I play soccer in the evenings a lot, I don’t want to eat one for dinner, nor do I want to eat one at 10pm after a game.  So, lunch it is.  I’m hoping that by doing this, I can cram a lot of nutrients into a lunch that will also give me energy throughout the day.  It’s going pretty well so far.  They involve a little prep work of chopping and such, but that’s no big deal and I sort of like that I’m controlling everything that goes in it.

So, post run, I was thinking about what to eat.  The experts say that a 4:1 carb/protein ratio within 30 minutes of a workout helps your muscles recover and rebuild.  Chocolate milk is touted as a great recovery drink, but I’m not too much of a milk guy and sometimes, I just really want to eat something.  Enter, hummus.  Check out the back of my tub and I’m in luck.  4 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein.  Perfect.  Eat a few spoonfuls or spread some on toast, perfect light recovery meal.

Wednesday’s What NOT To Watch – The Hunger Games

First, the hiatus from blog posts can be explained by a week long ’bout with bronchitis and a week long vacation in Florida.  Thus, while I was sick, I wasn’t drinking any beer to review or really doing anything fun, and while I was in Florida I was too busy to really type anything.  BUT, I did end up seeing “The Hunger Games” at a midnight showing (not voluntarily) and came away with some thoughts in general about well, how the movie really BLEW IT and basically ruined any hope for the kind of decent movie that the source material (and I mean that in the loosest sense of the word) really deserves.

A few things first.  I have not read “The Hunger Games” or any of the sequels, nor do I plan to.  Also, I felt really FREAKIN old in the theater because everyone around me was a teenage girl complaining about detention.  Yup, detention.  But given that demographic, it makes total sense that “The Hunger Games” scored an assload of money and is well on its way to being a crazy successful franchise.  But the problem with “The Hunger Games” is that it was made to score an assload of money from high school girls.

What am I talking about?  Well, the plot of “The Hunger Games” is really nothing we haven’t seen/read before.  “Battle Royale” did it with a novel and movie adaptation, Stephen King did it twice with “The Running Man” and “The Long Walk” and there are countless action pics involving Ice-T and Jean Claude Van Damme that involve humans hunting humans for sport.  So it’s not offering anything new.  Example, here’s the IMDB logline for “The Hunger Games”:

Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.

Wow.  On its surface, that sounds like it could be really intense with the potential to be really deep.  Kids, killing each other on live television, at the behest of the government.  A ton of possible social commentary and avenues to explore.  The problem is that “The Hunger Games” takes a “Twilight” approach to it, which not only means that everything is watered down into PG-13 teenybopper format, but no one could really make a similar movie that provides an epic take on the “fight to the death” plot, without being compared to “The Hunger Games.”  The future of the genre has been ruined.  Here’s how “The Hunger Games” really screwed up.

1) It takes place during the 74th or 76th (who really cares) Hunger Games, meaning it’s been going on for years.  I understand that the plot of the series is to watch the fall of the Capitol (probably, seeing as I haven’t read them) but a really intriguing movie would involve the first ever Hunger Games, and chronicle the uprising that LEAD to the games.  I mean, someone had to come up with this as a way to either give money to the districts or keep them in check (it’s never really clear what the fuck the purpose of the games are) or entertain the rich ass populace.  I want to see the first games, how the public reacts, how the contestants react, if it really achieves what the government wants it to.  I mean imagine if someone were to institute that, what would the reactions be?  Protests?  More rebellion?  Which leads me to:

2) The government/capitol doesn’t really seem that oppressive.  Sure, they make allusions to them giving food for participating in the games, which I guess makes them dicks and sure, some of the districts basically look like they’re the setting from “Winter’s Bone,” but they are a pretty lame government for this type of movie.  The guards or police force are dressed in white outfits that make them look as unintimidating as possible, they don’t carry guns, and they never really do anything oppressive on camera.  They are SHITTY VILLAINS.

3) It’s not violent enough.  I understand that in this day and age, we are wary of kids killing kids (see, every school shooting ever).  However, if you’re going to make a movie about that exact subject, I think the best way is to really embrace it and say, if this were to happen, this is what it would look like.  If we DON’T want to eventually get to that point, then we should probably address it in a different way than “The Hunger Games.”  Like 8 kids die in the first minute of the battle.  I don’t even remember what they looked like, there was no blood, no screaming, no pain, and it happened in such quick cuts, you couldn’t really tell what was happening.  If you had a battle in which kids were killing each other with sharp objects, people would be screaming in agony, limbs would be all over the place, it would be hell.  Am I advocating that we really make a “Saving Private Ryan” version of “The Hunger Games”?  I’m not sure, but I feel if you are going to tackle the subject of a televised slaughter of 12-18 year olds, then fuckin man up and face it realistically.  Which leads me to:

4) There is almost no discussion of the televised nature of the games.  Sure, there are cameras placed all over the battlefield, but they seem to be more used for the mission control people to add crazy monsters and fireballs and stuff.  First, if you have 24 kids trying to kill each other, I feel like you don’t need fireballs or giant dogs.  Let the kids go at it.  It felt like “Jurassic Park” or something once they started adding the dogs/beasts.  As if the thought of getting killed by your best friend wasn’t scary enough.  But back to the televised aspect.  There is a commentator sort of in Stanley Tucci, but there are no reaction shots of anyone watching the games, we don’t get any sort of sense of who/how many/where people watch it.  Do people go to bars?   Watch them on their Iphones?  Have viewing parties?  There are references to betting, but no scenes of them.  There are references to sponsors, but so much more could’ve been done with them.  IF they had used the movie to explore the first Hunger Games, then you could really explore the reactions of people watching, like, what the fuck are the parents of these kids doing?  They are dying on national TV apparently, but they die, cannons go off, that’s it.  They missed a HUGE opportunity here for social commentary, but I guess when you’re trying to make money off of a movie about kids killing kids, you can’t really explore the “sick fuck” aspect of the people watching kids killing kids.

5) It doesn’t feel real enough for me to give a shit.  Because of all the stuff I listed above, it’s obvious that the movie really doesn’t take it’s subject matter that seriously.  The games are just a setting for a teenage love story.  The rich populace looks like extras from “The Wizard of Oz” crossed with Lady Gaga and the Oompa Loompas from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”  They’re laughable and so they don’t seem human, so therefore, I don’t really care who they are and we never see any reactions of them even watching the games.  One of my favorite moments from “Gladiator” (a movie that I didn’t really enjoy overall) is watching Commodus react to the games, sticking out his tongue in an almost sexual enjoyment of the mayhem in front of him.  That guy enjoyed savagery, these lame asses from the Capitol, they’re just WEIRDOS.  And then we don’t see enough of the poor ass districts to really care that much about them either.

To sum it up, Michael Bay basically ruined the attack on Pearl Harbor by focusing on a love triangle.  “The Hunger Games” does the same fucking thing and ruins a really interesting/promising premise by Twilight-ing it up.  And just like no one is ever going to chance making a great movie about Pearl Harbor, no one is going to chance making a great/epic movie about oppressive governments ruling over televised battles to the death.  Maybe that’s a good thing, but shame on “The Hunger Games” for screwing it up.