Friday, December 23, 2011

The Hippodrome: 23 December 2011

Posted By on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 at 8:12 AM

Mike Munchak demonstrates his personnel decision-making strategy
  • Mike Munchak demonstrates his personnel decision-making strategy

This week in The 'Drome: Titans hit bedrock, Vandy loses to a tree, Predators rumors blow in the wind, the NBA for some reason and the polysyndetic construction you've grown to love ...

Opening Face-off

Mike Munchak vs. The Prevailing Winds of Obviousness: If one thing is clear after the Titans' embarrassing debacle at Indianapolis it's that Mike Munchak does not read the Nashville Scene.

If indeed, as the coach has said repeatedly, Matt Hasselbeck gives the team the best chance to win (a phrase sure to enter The Give 110 Percent Hall of Fame Of Overused Coaching Bromides), then why did the Two-Toners lose to an 0-13 Colts team led by a quarterback — and this is hard to overemphasize — who had never before won an NFL game?

The cacophony of voices calling for Jake Locker to start doesn't start and end with me and Jack Silverman. Over the last month, it's been apparent that Locker is ready — and if there's some turbulence along the way? Who cares?

Sure, despite their best efforts, the Titans can't seem to give away their playoff hopes.

There are a few scenarios that get the Titans in the post-season — some of which rely on the Bengals and Jets winning and losing their last two games in a specific order. The easy way to put it is that the Titans are OK if they're in a three-way tie.

Munchak, without a doubt, will stick with Hasselbeck, a move of Fisher-level intransigence, robotically insisting the vet gives the Titans the best chance to win. Between that and the sweet, familiar vanilla of recent offensive game plans (Hey! An off-tackle run! What boldness: a screen-pass! The imagination of the check-down!), the new coach is doing little to separate himself from his predecessor.

The Week Behind

Curtis Sanford reacts to Erats goal (artists depiction)
  • Curtis Sanford reacts to Erat's goal (artist's depiction)

It's The Big One, Elizabeth: After Marty Erat put the puck behind Curtis Sanford for the game-winner with 8.4 seconds left last night, Predators' play-by-play institution Pete Weber put it best.

"Merrr-ee Christmas!"

There was no other way to describe the improbable 6-5 comeback win against Columbus [TIP: Read David Legwand's quote in your best Ivan Drago voice for extra effect]. The Preds opened the scoring in the first period but were quickly answered. Then the Blue Jackets scored three goals on a late first period 5-minute major penalty to Brian McGrattan, taking a 4-1 lead into the locker room, led by Jeff Carter's hat trick with all three potted in the first frame.

But then, as they'll do, the Preds fought back.

The teams traded goals to open the second, but the Preds closed the gap to 5-4 heading into the last frame. And Columbus surely had to be thinking, "Not again," as the Preds most recent five-game win streak started with a furious comeback in Ohio's capital.

To the Jackets — who are so regularly tortured by the Predators — the ending was as obvious as the plot line of every treacly holiday movie on Lifetime. Legwand scored to tie it with with less than four minutes to go before Erat found the back of the net in the waning moments.

So, ho hum, the Predators won again a game they had all but lost and have won six of seven and have played 10 one-goal games in their last 11. The interruption to both streaks was Tuesday's 4-1 stinker in our nation's capital, the centerpiece of the annual Dads' Trip.

The Preds have been playing in the margins — in their shootout win last Saturday against the Blues, they were out-shot 40-20, which is not a formula for long-term success. Barry Trotz's grind-it style lends itself to nailbiters and in hockey — as in high finance — working the margins can reap big rewards, but it can also leave you holding a sack of potatoes.

Last night, it was more like Santa's sack of toys.

It Could Have Been Worse, It Could Have Been 59-0: When the book on the 2011 Tennessee Titans game is written (it will be called Welp! ), the chapter devoted to the inexcusable meth lab explosion that was the loss to the Colts will be titled, "Well, You Have Now."

The Titans looked like they were playing some kind of bizarro version of the horned-up frat-boy classic game "Never Have I Ever." The Colts said, "Never have I ever," and in the spirit of the season, the Titans responded, "Well, you have now."

"Never have I ever rushed for more than 129 yards in a game." Well, you have now.

"Never have I ever seen a Pro Bowl returner kick the ball out of bounds on the 1." Well, you have now.

"Never have I ever (ever) won an NFL game." Well, you have now.

Whatever. It's A Football School Anyway: Back in October, some numbskull declared Vanderbilt basketball as the city's Best Chance At A Championship.

If the 'Dores have any shot of not making a fool of me, they need to play more like they did against Longwood than they did against Missouri Valley Conference second runner-up Indiana State. Or they could play like they did against Lafayette — not the one in Macon County or the one in Louisiana, for that matter — when they hit 15 threes. Although, Vandy probably wants to avoid nine-minute scoring droughts when they play teams that aren't tiny, Northeastern liberal arts schools.

Vandy's woes against the Sycamores — who sadly have abandoned their sweet Larry Bird-era baby blue uniforms — are the same woes that always seem to doom the 'Dores: when the shooting goes cold, there's not much support inside. Festus Ezeli should be that guy, but he's clearly still playing hurt. And Jeff Taylor? We're still waiting on you to take over a game when it matters. Shooting 12-for-14 against Longwood is great, but that needs to happen when the team is in trouble of losing an important game. Or, say, a game against Cleveland State.

Vandy's season could go one of two ways: total wheels-off-the-wagon disaster or classic, feel-good team-with-talent overcomes early struggles and becomes world-beaters in March. Let's hope it's the latter.

Garbage Time: Belmont lost to Marshall as Rick Byrd served a one-game suspension after being ejected against Miami of Ohio. It was only the second game Byrd's missed in 31 years of coaching. The Bruins have lost five times already, as many as they lost all of last year. Looks like they'll have to win the A-Sun to play in March. ... The Metros, our local sorta-pro soccer team, named Desmond Armstrong as GM and Brent Goulet as technical director. Both played on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team. Armstrong was on the 1994 World Cup team. ... MTSU continued its blistering start, beating Ole Miss, putting Kermit Davis into a tie atop the Blue Raiders all-time wins list.

Halftime Entertainment

Burnt ends are a Kansas City specialty. They are delicious. Maybe Shaun Smith misses them?
  • Burnt ends are a Kansas City specialty. They are delicious. Maybe Shaun Smith misses them?

They've Got A Crazy Way Of Loving There: Titans defensive lineman Shaun Smith's Twitter is an occasional source of entertainment. In the way that a watching someone try to guzzle a gallon of milk is entertaining, not in the way that the IDGAF attitude of Joe Buck on Twitter is entertaining.

Smith had a locker-room spat with Fox 17 sports guy Dan Phillips last month (Phillips' account of the events here and here and here and here and here). We can argue to death whether Phillips is violating some kind of code by repeating Smith's locker-room outburst, but certainly Smith seemed to take umbrage here and here and here.

Fully 47 percent of Smith's tweets (estimated), though, are retweets of people telling him how great he was with the Chiefs and how much they miss him in Kansas City. It is worth noting people from the six other NFL cities Smith has played in (or people from Las Vegas who remember him from his time on the d-line for the UFL's Locomotives) either don't seem to miss him very much or, at least, Smith doesn't feel the need to share their sentiments with the world.

Thinking that, perhaps, Smith has some kind of compulsion forcing him to retweet any mention of his one season at Arrowhead, 102.5's Joe Dubin and Channel 4's Ian Rhodes (neither of whom live in Kansas City and, as Smith could have learned with a mouse click, actually live and work in Nashville) sent facetious tweets of praise to Smith's time in the City of Fountains. Predictably, Smith touched the retweet button for both.

While the whole thing comes off a little weird, Dubin and Rhodes (and, perhaps, Phillips) can take solace in all Smith touched was Twitter and not, uh, something else.


Awwwwws of the Week: The Preds have video from the Dads' Trip (check out Trotz's glasses about one minute in), a feature in which Brian McGrattan's dad — third-generation steelworker Tom has worked in the steel biz for 39 years — says things that will make you cry, and some photos scattered through their Twitter timeline. The Preds are like a family, according to Sergei Kostitsyn, which is not like it is in Montreal. That's quite a thing for SK74 to say. Since he played with his real-life actual brother in Montreal. It'll be awkward around the Belorussian Thanksgiving table this year.

Also, check out this amazing video from Vandy of former Preds' assistant Brent Peterson getting some advanced brain surgery to alleviate his Parkinson's. This is quite a world we live in.

And a congrats to Titans d-lineman Dave Ball and his wife who welcomed a son this week.

The Week Ahead

The Titans are giving away Santa hats Saturday. This is what it will look like once everyone realizes Locker isn't playing.
  • The Titans are giving away Santa hats Saturday. This is what it will look like once everyone realizes Locker isn't playing.

Plenty Of Room To Stretch Out: At some point during Saturday's game against the Jaguars, PA announcer Mike Donegan will announce a sell-out. It will be the most laughable words he's uttered except for "Vince Young, two-time Pro Bowler."

Sure, all the seats at LP Field will be sold — so, yes, the game will be on TV. But given the struggles the Titans have had putting actual butts in seats this year, there's no reason to think a holiday game for a perfectly mediocre team playing a nearly-mediocre opponent will draw more than the die-hards, the masochists, the perpetually optimistic and the very available.

The Jags feature an offense quarterbacked by Blaine Gabbert, who should really be getting more attention for being awful though I suspect he's getting a free pass because there are so many people in the media who went to Missouri just like him. Maurice Jones-Drew is leading the NFL in rushing, which is terrible news for a Titans team unable to keep Donald Brown under 160 yards.

Worthless Prediction: If the Titans can't beat the Colts, there's not much hope against the Jags, who, you'll remember, beat the Titans in Week One with Luke McCown under center. Jags 24, Titans 10.

Boxing Days: The Preds head to Dallas for a quick trip tonight before the NHL's mandated Christmas break, which is quaint in an admirable way, rather than completely inexplicable to outsiders like other NHL traditions.

The team comes back for a pair at home next week: again against the Red Wings Monday and a Wednesday game against the suddenly reeling Minnesota Wild, a team whom the Preds only seem to play around various holidays.

If nothing else, this little stretch should give us a preview of how the Preds stack up against their post-re-alignment foes. Of the eight games on the schedule between Dec. 15 and Dec. 30, seven are against teams who will be conference opponents starting next year.

Preds-Red Wings games already have a certain cachet, but these games against the Stars and Wild will indicate if the Preds can contend this year — and beyond.

Worthless Prediction: Four points in three games would be a nice result, especially since tonight's roadie is the team's third game in four days.

You Mean There's More State West Of The Tennessee River? : The NBA starts back Christmas Day, which is good because even people who care about the NBA don't care about the NBA until Santa's enjoying his post-sleigh-flight cognac.

Coming off a wholly-watchable playoff run, the Memphis Grizzlies have been picked by SI to win the Southwest Division (we suspect Memphis is in the Southwest because David Stern is a student of the history of Rhodes College). The team lost Shane Battier in free agency, but did manage to re-sign Marc Gasol and nearly-superstar O.J. Mayo is in a contract year.

Worthless Prediction: The Grizz indeed win the division. Everyone decides they like the NBA's 66-game schedule. David Stern ignores them and, in turn, we all go back to ignoring the NBA until well after Twelfth Night as per usual.

Overtime

This is a visual metaphor. You figure it out.
  • This is a visual metaphor. You figure it out.

Defrosters: In addition to not playing games on Christmases Eve and Day, the NHL also freezes rosters for a week around the holiday - which means, despite getting ruined by Alex Ovechkin, Jon Blum will stay in Nashville until at least Tuesday, even though Trotz didn't seem enthused by his play.

In any event, the Predators need to make some moves. Trotz himself said on his weekly segment on 102.5 he thinks a veteran defenseman is more of a need than a top-six forward, though he admitted he wants (and thinks Nashville will get) both. Wild speculation surrounds the status of pending free agents Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, with professional and amateur rumor-mongers suggesting one might be shipped to Philadelphia as a replacement for the injured Chris Pronger.

In regards the Big Two, David Poile told Josh Cooper "As I sit here today, I don’t think we’re going to be doing anything" and he told Canadian double-letter enthusiast Elliotte Friedman "Well, our first choice is to sign them. That hasn't changed."

Until he gets one (or both) under contract — because of the off-season arbitration, Weber can't sign until after the New Year — those kinds of questions are going to pester Poile until the trade deadline in late February. In any event, it doesn't seem as if Poile would move either if the Preds are still in the playoff hunt. For now, the team is in its usual spot in the Top 8, but if it keeps playing the margins, that could be a tougher ask. Rather than seeing what craziness teams are willing to offer for Suter and Weber, Poile's focus should stay on finding that vet blueliner (Jaroslav Spacek?) and a scorer (and that means finding one this year, not waiting for Alexander Radulov).

To get maximum value, he'll have to part ways with two things he loves: prospects and draft picks, but demonstrating further to his top pair that he's willing to get what the team needs will pay dividends when it comes to them signing on the line.


Questions for The 'Drome? Shoot em to jrlind [at] nashvillescene [dot] com. Maybe I'll do a mailbag because I kinda wanna phone it in the week after Christmas like everybody else.

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