Ilya Communication. My favorite hockey superstars —
if the term can be applied to anyone in today's league beyond Crosby, Ovechkin and Jagr — are the ones that ultimately piss you off as they're kicking your team's ass...like Crosby, Ovechkin and Jagr do.
If Ilya Kovalchuk wasn't already on that list, he earned induction after last night's 5-4 Atlanta overtime win in Carolina, ending the game with a goal and three assists. In the OT, Kovalchuk stole a puck from Glen Wesley at the defensive blue line, causing Wesley to initiate contact to prevent a breakaway, causing Kovalchuk to embellish a fall to the ice, causing the referee to hand out a tripping minor, causing the Hurricanes' bench to accuse Kovalchuk of diving, causing Kovalchuk to politely respond with "fudge you," only he didn't say fudge. Wesley went to the penalty box and threw his water bottle against the glass like a kid whose coach just took away his pouch of Big League Chew in the dugout. The Thrashers go on the power play, and Kovalchuk hits Marian Hossa with a cross-ice pass for the game-winner. Wesley comes out of the box and starts bawling at the ref, looking angry enough to throw down against Ilya Kovalchuk, Ilia Kulik and Lee Elia at the same time.
One Last Thing About The Outdoor Game. While the Winter Classic's 2.6 overnight rating made the biggest headlines — virtually guaranteeing the NHL will take it outside again and proving hockey can actually draw better than an infomercial for OxyClean on New Year's Day — the really interesting ratings news came in NBC's market-by-market breakdown. While many markets were dominated by college football (like Detroit, one would imagine), the door was open for some unusual ratings draws:
Top Ten Metered Markets:
1. Buffalo 38.2/58
2. Pittsburgh 17.7/30
3. Minneapolis 5.1/11
4. Denver 3.7/7
T5. Providence 3.5/7
T5. Las Vegas 3.5/6
7. St. Louis 3.3/5
8. Boston 3.2/6
9. Sacramento 2.9/6
T10. Richmond 2.8/5
T10. Hartford 2.8/5
Sactown? SACTOWN? I needed some sort of expert to help me understand what seems like quite an anomaly. So I hit up Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and NBA FanHouse to ask him, "what the fuck?" He offered three alternate and possibly simultaneously accurate explanations: "We're suckers for romance, the nearest Division I-A football team is 80 miles away (and even that overstates interest in the sport among natives), and finally: There is Jack and Jill Shit to do in Sacramento."
More to the point, he said there's "as much general hockey interest in the greater Sacramento region as in the Shark'd Bay Area," with plenty of youth/adult rinks and some college hockey. Ziller even admitted he used to drive a Zamboni during college. So watch out, Motown — SacTown is coming to take your Hockeytown crown! If it can continue to out-rate Richmond, of course.
Stars Destroyers. Speaking of Detroit, they bitch-slapped Dallas last night, 4-1, in a battle between the best team in the Western Conference and the team that, based on the sequential order of points earned, is second best. One of the NHL's most underappreciated stats this season: Of the Red Wings' eight losses on the season, only two of them have come outside their division. Marty Turco's reaction when asked about being 1-9-5 against Detroit? "You don't have to remind me." By the way, when it comes to All-Star Game coaches this season, it's Dock vs. Cock.
Seriously, Last Thing About the Outdoor Game. Can someone tell me the last time the NHL held an event as big as the Winter Classic on American television and Gary Bettman wasn't featured as much as he wasn't featured on NBC? We're talking about a commissioner that's been all over every All-Star event, Stanley Cup Final, Entry Draft and labor stoppage over the last 15 years. He offered some pithy postgame comments in a press release, but I can't say I actually remember even seeing him during the game. I'm not going to say that the lack of Bettman is one of the reasons the game seems to have been universally embraced by hockey fans ... but when you have the charisma and discordant communication skills of a department of motor vehicles window clerk like Bettman does, it's a possibility, no?
OK, I'm Not Shitting You: This Is It About the Outdoor Game. Finally, if you're not reading Pensblog, you're not reading a couple of Pittsburgh puckheads with mediocre Photoshop skills covering the Penguins better than the Post-Gazette and Morgan Freeman combined. So good are they, in fact, that I will proudly thief this sight gag from their Winter Classic post yesterday (with their blessing, of course):