Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Don't Blame Condon

It's December 23rd, and that can only mean one thing.

The Winter Classic is coming.

Well, okay, it means more than that. There's that Christmas holiday and all coming up.

And then after that will be New Year's. And that means the Winter Classic.

TigerBlog has had his moments of being an NHL fan. Back when he was in high school and college, he liked the Islanders, who went from being awful to winning four straight Stanley Cups. He hasn't really had a favorite team since then, though he liked the Devils, who were the first team to proudly claim to be from New Jersey.

He has always liked the Winter Classic, largely because he loved HBO's "24/7" pieces that chronicled the travels of the two teams leading to the big New Year's Day game.

As you've probably figured out by now, the Winter Classic has been played on New Years' Day each of the last seven years. It's played in an outdoors stadium in a cold weather city in the winter. That's the novelty.

In 2014, the NHL adopted the "if some is good, more must be better" approach and had the Winter Classic and the "NHL Stadium Series," which featured four other outdoor games, including one in Los Angeles of all places. Last year, there were two outdoor games. This year there will be three.

Of course, it's hard to argue with the success of the outdoor games. They have had enormous crowds, stands filled with people willing to 1) sit outside in the freezing weather and 2) sit far away from the ice. Still, TigerBlog wonders if the NHL is overdoing it, with the inevitable diminishing returns to follow.

The first of the three outdoor games for this season will be the eighth Winter Classic, to be held in Gillette Stadium, the home of the New England Patriots. It'll feature the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

TigerBlog has followed the Canadiens closer than he has any other professional sports team of late, at least since the Kansas City Royals won the World Series. And why? The same reason.

A Princeton alum. This one is a little different, though.

TB's interest in the Royals was due to Chris Young, the former Princeton basketball/baseball player. TigerBlog saw every game Young played in his two year basketball career at Princeton, home and away, except for one.

In the case of the Canadiens, the Princeton alum is Mike Condon. Though TigerBlog saw a handful of Condon's games at Princeton, he has never met or spoken to him.

This is strictly brand-loyalty.

Condon, a 2013 grad, beat out Dustin Tokarski for the No. 2 goaltender job for the Canadians in the preseason. It figured to be a great gig for a young player - play a few games here and there but mostly sit behind Carey Price, the best goalie in the league.

It certainly started out that way. Montreal came out of the gate fast, going 9-0-0 to start the year. Price played seven of those games, leaving two for Condon.

Then Price got hurt. And Condon had to play every game. At first Price was only out a few games, and Condon did well.

Then it came out that Price would miss six weeks. Tokarski was brought back as Condon's backup, and it has been anything but smooth for the Canadiens since.

In fact, the team has struggled big time. The goalie position has been a merry-go-round between the two, and in fact the team has used both in three of the last five games.

TigerBlog watched Montreal's 6-2 loss to Dallas Saturday night. Condon got pulled in the third period, but really, his teammates did next to nothing to help him out.

TigerBlog then watched the last two periods of last night's game against Minnesota, won by the Wild 2-1. Condon played very well and made some big saves down the stretch to give him team a chance.

But still, just a single goal, which came down 2-0 late in the third period. And what proved to be the game-winner came after a turnover in the neutral zone.

In fact, Montreal's offense has scored more than two goals in a game only twice since Price last played, which was on Nov. 25, and one of those games was in OT. That's been in a 13-game span.

Hey, don't blame the young goalies. Blame the offense. And stop saying "Price would have made that save." How does anyone know that? Plus, even if he did, he wouldn't skate down the other end and score, which is what Montreal really needs.

Condon figured to play about 10-15 games all year. He's already played in 23, starting 20.

It's basically like seeing the best quarterback in the NFL get hurt and having a rookie step in to quarterback a veteran team.

Anyway, Price won't be back until after the New Year, which means he'll miss the Winter Classic. That means it'll be either Condon or Tokarski in goal for Montreal.

It's been a good year for Princeton athletes in the pro ranks. Caraun Reid scored a touchdown for the Lions. Mike Catapano got to play with his favorite team, the Jets. Young, obviously, won a World Series.

And Condon has gotten his shot with the Canadiens.

Now he needs his teammates to make a few of theirs.

1 comment:

Richard Woodward said...

When considering the banner year for Princeton pro athletes, don't forget to recognize two others who excelled this year: Donn Cabral with a top ten finish in the World Track Championhips and Kelly Shon, who did quite well on the LPGA circuit.