Skywalkers Ascending

Well, here we go.  It’s been a rather quiet year for Star WarsSolo under-performed at the box office, there was no winter film release in 2018, and there’s been no substantive talk of future movies — there’s just the final film in the “Skywalker Saga,” set to come out in theaters at the end of this year.  Mysteriously left untitled in the YouTube video’s title, the two-minute teaser trailer for Episode IX was revealed this morning during the annual Star Wars Celebration in Chicago.  Let’s have a look at each scene, shall we?

The Lucasfilm Logo, for the last time in a Saga Star Wars film.  Probably.

In the darkness, Rey is panting, out of breath.  There’s almost no music until the visuals begin.

“We’ve passed on all we know.”

She’s standing alone in a vast desert.  Among the many deserts we’ve seen in Star Wars, this one looks most similar to Jedda.  But that can’t be right.

“A thousand generations live in you now.”

Rey awaits an opponent, lightsaber drawn.  A TIE fighter is heard whining in the distance; it slowly comes into focus.

“But this is your fight.”

EVERY GENERATION HAS A LEGEND

A sweeping shot over the sand dunes of the aforementioned desert planet.  Are we back on Jakku? Tatooine? Jedda??

Kylo Ren’s TIE Silencer zips by, kicking up a trail of dust.

Rey faces away from the oncoming TIE and bursts into a sprint.  Don’t forget to zig zag!

Someone’s hands at the controls.  Whosoever could it be?  They don’t show a face, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t many TIE Silencers out there.

He gets closer…

…and closer…

I love this telephoto-style shot.  The TIE lurks behind.  One thing to note: compared to The Last Jedi, this TIE Silencer has a different front window, as well as red fuselage accents.  Maybe this isn’t Kylo’s ship?

Then the most bonkers shot of the trailer.  Rey Force Jumps backward, flipping head over heels to strike the fighter with her lightsaber.  The shot is in slow-motion, which had been used very sparingly in The Last Jedi, but still feels out of place here.  This isn’t Zack Snyder’s Star Wars.  I have no reason to believe this cinematographic choice is limited to the teaser trailer either, though it’s also weirdly possible that this scene doesn’t even appear in the final cut.  Who knows!

THIS CHRISTMAS

Leia’s theme plays in a new heavy arrangement.  I am exceptionally curious about her arc in this film, which I’ll get into more below.

A starfighter flies into a very blue planet.  On a series of foggy mountain bluffs sits a city of some kind, dotted with yellow and orange lights, with several distinctive towers on its corners.

Kylo Ren body slams an armored knight with his lightsaber.  Again, there’s a slow-motion effect.  He is attacking alongside Storm Troopers in a dead forest amidst red clouds.  I feel like this scene might be in the beginning of the film.

Kylo Ren remakes his mask, with red accents!  I’m sensing a theme…

Finn and Poe stand and lookout from a rock formation on previous desert planet.  Poe is dressed like an archaeologist, halfway between Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park.

BB-8!  And a new friend that looks like a hair dryer on a unicycle!  Dio, I believe is its name.

Lando!  Back on his ship.  He looks happy.  I’m really curious about how he ends up tangled in all of this.

Also, why is he wearing the same clothes he wore in Solo?!  I swear, if this movie makes a tie in to that one, I will be moderately displeased. So, it’s definitely going to happen, right?

THE SAGA COMES TO AN END

A skiff chase on desert planet.  The scenery, the explosion, the weird array of spires, and especially the color grading feels very Mad Max: Fury Road.  Which is awesome.

C-3PO, Finn and Poe dodge laser blasts during skiff chase.  If this doesn’t remind you a little bit of the Jabba’s Sail Barge part of Return of the Jedi, you haven’t been paying attention.  Of course there’s going to be massive parallels to Return of the Jedi, because the sequel trilogy has been nothing but parallels.

This is a really neat quick shot of a silhouetted A-Wing about to crash.  A-Wings have gotten no love or respect in the sequel trilogy.  In Return, they were badass and nearly single-handedly cost the Empire the Executor.  Here they just get blown up in hangars and shot out of the sky.  Let’s see some awesomeness from the reborn Green Group, eh?

“We’ll always be with you.”

This is one of the medallions given to Han and Luke during the Throne Room ceremony at the end of A New Hope.  I assume that’s Leia holding it, but I cannot reasonably guess to which of the two that belongs, now that they’re both gone…

Leia and Rey, in a scene cut from The Force Awakens and integrated into this one.  According to J. J. Abrams, these scenes worked seamlessly within the new story.  I really hope so, for everyone’s sake.  The shot here looks like it took place on Takodana, so they must be somewhere similar.  A handful of the promo shots featured a forest (more Return parallels), so maybe that’s where it fits?

The gang stare off of a windswept, grassy hill.  I get Hawaii vibes from the terrain.  Everyone is here together, which is something that’s somehow pretty much never happened in the first two films before the end of The Last Jedi.

“No one’s ever really gone.”

Okay, this is super creepy and awesome.  Giant waves crash against cliffs below the above grassy hill; in the distance, ruins of the freakin’ DEATH STAR.  A couple of things here: there are shades of The Force Awakens in using the ruins of old Imperial military behemoths as an absolutely gorgeous set piece.  Secondly, which Death Star is this?  Both exploded pretty finely so I assume we’re retconning that into realistic debris.  Both Yavin IV and Endor were primarily featured as densely forested moons, but the wide shots of both planets also show bodies of water as well, albeit nothing at an ocean-like scale.  Ultimately, I think what gives it all away happens during the very next “shot.”

Darkness.  I know that laugh…

Unmistakably, that’s the gleeful cackle of Emperor goddamn Palpatine!  Last seen cast down a deep elevator shaft on the Second Death Star, which promptly exploded, there’s no way he’s still around 30-some years later in corporeal form, right?  In the Extended Universe, he’s cloned several times, but I would assume they’re not going to follow the now “Legends” of the old EU.  So, does this mean he’s some kind of Sith Force Ghost?  Is his spirit alive within the ruined shell of the Second Death Star.  Why are all of our heroes there on, evidently, Endor in the first place?  I guess we’ll find out…

It closes with another ominous score. STAR WARS, fittingly, in blue.

And the title: The Rise of Skywalker.  Now that is an extremely curious, if clumsy title.  It doesn’t specify which Skywalker is risen — does Luke return from the dead?  Probably only as a Force Ghost.  Does Kylo Ren Solo Skywalker get redeemed?  Likely, in some way.  Is Rey actually a Skywalker after all?  I hope not.  Does it mean something else entirely?  I have no idea!

The teaser, as usual, gives away absolutely nothing.  There are some gorgeous shots, some exciting action spots, and of course the stinger at the end to keep people guessing.  I’m cautiously excited — I just hope it concludes satisfyingly.  Nothing in the trailer feels final in any way, and this is, as everyone knows (and is written above in big, bold text just for good measure) the end of the saga.  There’s no coming back to tie up any loose ends.  No pressure, J. J.  Get it done right.

Stanley Cup 2019, I: Feeling Blue

I – II – III – IV – V –

Boy, that was not the season I had envisioned in November.  A taste of first place was awesome, but somehow it closed yesterday with tempered anticipation of landing first overall.  After the collapse that was 2019 in Buffalo, I’m feeling drained of hockey life at the moment.  The worst part is, that’s almost exactly how I predicted things to go — this was not to be a playoff year in Buffalo, yet it hurts so much worse the closer one gets to success.  With that in mind, I’m looking forward to an even deeper heartbreak next year when the upstart Sabres under Todd McLellan lose in the second round to the Leafs.  Yay.

(Note to self: definitely check to see how this plays out in April 2020.)

(Aside aside: holy shit next year is 2020…)

On a happier (?) note, my preseason predictions were, for a brief shining moment, almost exactly right, especially in the West.  The final standings have just two teams different there, with two being in the exact right place.  In fact, I nailed the Stars point total at 93 as well, the only numerical guess I got right of the 31.  Arizona finished in 9th as well, so I was close!

The East is a different story.  The Lightning were the juggernaut I thought the Leafs would be, while the Flyers and Panthers both fired their coaches during and after the season, respectively.  Carolina for fucking once made everyone’s dark horse predictions worthwhile.  I was even somewhat bullish on the Islanders despite popular opinion — turns out we all should have been far more on their bandwagon.  In the end, the three teams that won the lottery yesterday can all be seen below the playoff cutoff, as well.

So yeah, not too many surprises here overall.  There’s so little playoff turnover from last year to now, I’m hoping for some unexpected awesomeness over the coming weeks.  I always say that the same old teams in the playoffs is boring, but that doesn’t at all mean that the hockey they play will be, too.

With that in mind, I played it straight this year.  No sentimental favorites, no doing what the heart wants — just plain old picking the “best” teams in each series.  Will I be right?  Of course not.  But maybe!

Can’t see any path to the Cup that doesn’t involve Tampa just toying with its prey.  I know, I know, this isn’t supposed to happen that way — it never does — but doesn’t it just feel like it will?  I’ll waste no time getting to my “analysis,” starting with my Champion’s first series:

Stats herein (Power Play and Penalty Kill percentages, 5v5 Score-Adjusted Corsi [Shots on goal + missed shots + blocked shots, a decent measure of possession] & PDO [save percentage + shooting percentage, a decent measure of luck]) are measured from the trade deadline, February 25th, 2019, until the end of the regular season.  This is done in order to portray a more representative sample as teams trend toward their playoff forms.  All numbers are taken from NHL.com, hockey-reference.com, and Corsica.  Injury info is taken from TSN.


A1. Tampa Bay Lightning vs M5. Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets barely squeaked into the playoffs, despite an ambitious trade-deadline all-in play that resulted in a 47 win, 98 point season.  There was something amiss in the East this year, and the Jackets are lucky to have made it to the dance despite this clearly incredible year.  Their reward, however, is a date with the juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning, who themselves had a record-tying 62 win season.  Only the most fool-hardy hockey minds will be picking an upset in this series; the Blue Jackets are simply the Lightning’s appetizer on their way to a second Stanley Cup championship.  Lightning in three.  Let’s move on.

…Okay, it’s not that easy.  The Presidents’ Trophy obviously does not guarantee the Stanley Cup.  In fact, we’ve seen both of the other 120+ point post-lockout teams fall in the first round so the first-round odds are historically heavily against Tampa.  That said, history is by and large meaningless.  The failures of nine, thirteen, or twenty-three years ago have no effect on the present.  Right?

I have no idea how these Lightning will react to this kind of pressure.  They were the favorites last year in the East, but came up empty when presented with two chances to reach the Cup Final.  Is having now the Presidents’ Trophy on top of being clear favorites really that much of a better situation to be in?

The Blue Jackets are similarly afflicted, having not once advanced in a series in their history, as well as living with the mediocre results of what was supposed to be an all-in push at the deadline.  Of course, anybody can win in hockey.  But with an offensive, defensive, goaltending, well-coached, healthy juggernaut lining up against a similarly constructed, but far less deep, team with shaky playoff goaltending, it’s really really hard to see this going any other way.  I’m going to be bold and say Lightning in four.  Few teams have stumped Tampa on its cruise to #1, and Columbus wasn’t one of them.  A 3-0 record with a 17-3 goal differential is a statement in and of itself.

Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
TBL: 128 | 62 [56] - 16 - 4 - 1 | +98
CBJ:  98 | 47 [45] - 31 - 4 - 1 | +25

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
TBL: 28 [0.737] | 14 [14] - 5 - 0 - 0 | +21
CBJ: 25 [0.595] | 12 [10] - 8 - 1 - 0 |  +9

Power Play%
TBL: 22.6%, 11th
CBJ: 14.9%, 26th

Penalty Kill%
TBL: 82.8%, 15th
CBJ: 89.7%,  1st

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
TBL: 52.83%, 11th
CBJ: 50.11%, 15th

PDO
TBL: 104.16,  1st
CBJ: 100.28, 15th

Notable Injuries
TBL: Victor Hedman, Louis Domingue
CBJ: Ryan Murray, Adam McQuaid

Season Series
2018-10-13; CBJ 2, TBL 8
2019-01-08; CBJ 0, TBL 4
2019-02-18; TBL 5, CBJ 1 
TBL: 3-0-0 [1.000]
CBJ: 0-3-0 [0.000]

Playoff History
None


 

A2. Boston Bruins vs A3. Toronto Maple Leafs:  For some reason, this sure feels like the third meeting in a row for these two teams.  It is, in fact, only the second, with the third being back in 2013 — I keep forgetting the Leafs played the Capitals in 2017…  Regardless, the previous two series between the Bruins and Leafs both went seven, featured an extremely exciting final third period, and saw the Bruins moving on to the next round.  This year, I’ve decided to add another nugget of info below regarding the playoff history of every series — as you can see below, this is the 16th meeting of these teams, and apparently the Leafs haven’t beaten the Bruins in the playoffs since 1959!  Yikes.

As for the matchup, I’m feeling extremely favorable toward the Bruins.  I know, I just threw up in my mouth a little.  Then again, I would have completely tossed my cookies if I were picking the Leafs…  Here’s the deal: the Bruins are phenomenal.  They cruised to a 2nd place finish in the league whilst sharing a division with the record-tying Lightning.  They’ve been dynamite since the deadline, and while still banged up, have shown a remarkable resilience against injury all season.  They’ve been a sleeper pick for me in the East for a while — this year, I’m absolutely convinced they will make it into the next round.  100%.

The Leafs are fun and quick.  They score a lot.  They also have a weak blue line and streaky goaltending, as well as some new found drama in their backup situation.  The addition of John Tavares this offseason didn’t propel them into the stratosphere, but he did add 47 goals to an already high-flying offense.  I just can’t get over the fact that they played like garbage down the stretch.  This team had fewer points than last year’s, and that glaring negative goal differential in their last 20 is brutal.  The only way the Leafs escape this series is if goaltending is suddenly rock solid.  Otherwise it’s rakes out.  Bruins in five.  We’re not seeing a seven-game classic this time; we’ll be out before spring has sprung in Toronto.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
BOS: 107 | 49 [47] - 24 - 9 - 3 | +45
TOR: 100 | 46 [46] - 28 - 8 - 2 | +37

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
BOS: 26 [0.650] | 13 [13] - 7 - 0 - 0 | +18
TOR: 20 [0.500] |  8 [ 8] - 8 - 4 - 2 |  -8

Power Play%
BOS: 24.1%,  5th
TOR: 22.0%, 12th

Penalty Kill%
BOS: 76.7%, 25th
TOR: 78.0%, 21st

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
BOS: 56.27%, 2nd
TOR: 52.83%, 9th

 PDO
BOS: 100.38, 13th
TOR:  98.02, 28th

 Notable Injuries
BOS: Sean Kuraly, John Moore, Kevan Miller
TOR: Jake Muzzin

 Season Series
2018-11-10; TOR 1, BOS 5
2018-11-26; BOS 2, TOR 4
2018-12-08; TOR 3, BOS 6
2019-01-12; BOS 3, TOR 2
BOS: 3-1-0 [0.750]
TOR: 1-3-0 [0.250]

Playoff History
BOS: 1939, 1941, 1969, 1972, 1974, 2013, 2018
TOR: 1933, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1959


M1. Washington Capitals vs M4. Carolina Hurricanes:  Well, well, well look what we have here.  The Carolina Hurricanes are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.  I can’t believe it’s been that long — the Canes were a nemesis in 2006 and a shocking threat in 2009, and then… nothing.  For stretches inside these ten years, I would forget they existed at all.  Indeed, this is somehow just their sixth playoff berth in 21 seasons after relocating from Hartford.  Despite the paucity of appearances, however, they do tend to make a statement when they show up: in three of their five previous playoff runs, they’ve gone three or more rounds, winning one Stanley Cup.  Is this Canes team primed for a surprise deep go this year?  Are the defending champions ready to humble the Bunch of Jerks™, or will they take a knee and pass the torch?

The fact that the Washington Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions continues to throw me for a loop.  This is a team that’s shrugged the monkey off its back and is absolutely primed to repeat.  Alex Ovechkin just won his 8th (!) Rocket Richard Trophy and continues his quest toward passing Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goal record, while the rest of the team quietly rode to fourth straight division championship.  The pieces are there, the stats are pretty good, and way down there, one notes a season series sweep of the Hurricanes.  I hate picking favorites to win every series, since we know that’s almost never how it goes, but I’m going to make it 3-for-3 so far: Capitals in six.  The Hurricanes are good, and their runs are deep, but I’m not feeling it.  They’ll steal a game on Caps ice and return to give their home crowd one last Storm Surge-esque moment — a handshake line and season sendoff.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WSH: 104 | 48 [44] - 26 - 8 - 1 | +26
CAR:  99 | 46 [44] - 29 - 7 - 2 | +22

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WSH: 27 [0.711] | 13 [12] - 5 - 1 - 0 | +18
CAR: 27 [0.675] | 13 [12] - 6 - 1 - 0 | +10

Power Play%
WSH: 17.3%, 20th
CAR: 19.5%, 16th

Penalty Kill%
WSH: 80.8%, 17th
CAR: 84.1%, 10th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WSH: 54.54%, 7th
CAR: 53.80%, 8th

 PDO
WSH: 101.52, 5th
CAR: 100.99, 8th

 Notable Injuries
WSH: Michael Kempny
CAR: Calvin de Haan

 Season Series
2018-12-14; WSH 6, CAR 5 S/O
2018-12-27; CAR 1, WSH 3
2019-03-26; CAR 1, WSH 4
2019-03-28; WSH 3, CAR 2
WSH: 4-0-0 [1.000]
CAR: 0-3-1 [0.125]

Playoff History
None


M2. New York islanders vs M3. Pittsburgh Penguins: Welcome back to the fray, Long Island — the playoffs have missed Nassau Coliseum greatly.  It’s kinda crazy, the season that’s been in New York.  They lost John Tavares to the fuckin’ Leafs, cratered in everyone’s preseason rankings, then blasted off to within a point of a division championship, making many many people look stupid in the process.  The Barry Trotz/Mitch Korn goalie magic must be real: they took Robin Lehner (post-Buffalo-breakdown) and turned him from a 0.908 goalie on a last-place Sabres team into a 0.930 on what was supposed to be a last-place Islanders team.  In fact, the Islanders allowed the fewest goals all year, winning the Jennings Trophy in a lengthy battle with the Dallas Stars of all teams.  It’s been a pretty strange year…

The Penguins, one year removed from a second consecutive Stanley Cup, have had a rough season by their standards.  Up and down, injury ridden, frustrating for fans, cathartic for haters, yet they finished off with another triple-digit point total and, after a late season surge, I would say are the slight favorites in this series.  Pittsburgh’s star power is never to be ignored (especially if they play every game on NBCSN, amirite?), and despite a mediocre season in goal, has the winning credentials that make them a fearsome playoff opponent no matter what their regular season looks like.  Also, the Islanders power-play is holy shit bad.  Special teams are somewhat important in the playoffs, so they better get that fixed or it’s gonna be a real short trip.  Penguins in six.  I don’t know, this season feels a little fluky for New York.  Maybe next year they’ll win their second series in 30 years; I just don’t feel it now.  Still, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Islanders push the Pens to the brink, if not win this one outright.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
NYI: 103 | 48 [43] - 27 -  7 - 5 | +32
PIT: 100 | 44 [42] - 26 - 12 - 3 | +33

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
NYI: 24 [0.571] | 12 [10] - 9 - 0 - 0 |  -2
PIT: 28 [0.700] | 12 [11] - 4 - 4 - 1 | +14

Power Play%
NYI:  6.1%, 31st (!)
PIT: 24.6%,  3rd

Penalty Kill%
NYI: 78.3%,  20th
PIT: 77.5%, T22nd

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
NYI: 48.57%, 19th
PIT: 51.45%, 10th

 PDO
NYI:  99.53, 22nd
PIT: 101.37,  6th

 Notable Injuries
NYI: Andrew Ladd
PIT: Brian Dumoulin

 Season Series
2018-10-30; NYI 6, PIT 3
2018-11-01; PIT 2, NYI 3 S/O
2018-12-06; NYI 2, PIT 6
2018-12-10; PIT 2, NYI 1 S/O
NYI: 2-1-1 [0.625]
PIT: 2-1-1 [0.625]

Playoff History
NYI: 1975, 1982, 1993
PIT: 2013


 

C1. Nashville Predators vs C4. Dallas Stars: Humph.  Wasn’t this matchup just announced as the next Winter Classic?  How bizarre, then, that they should preview that totally important outdoor game with a toss-up of a playoff series?  Nashville was a big favorite to win the west after having followed up their 2017 Stanley Cup run with a Presidents’ Trophy win last year.  They disappointed on that front, but somehow came away with a Central Division title amidst an exceptionally crowded field.  After the deadline, they didn’t really seem to gel all that much; only a hot April pushed them over the first-place line.

In the other corner, the wildcard Dallas Stars sit just 7 points back — like I said, the Central was crowded this year.  Dallas was as I mentioned above, the second stingiest team in the league, somehow, which goes to show how much I’ve paid attention to the Stars this year.  (ie, not at all)  So then, what do? I would say this is about as even a one-four matchup can be, so I’m just gonna throw some darts — Stars in seven.  Nashville’s been on the other side of this kind of upset in recent memory; time to see if Dallas can pull it off.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
NSH: 100 | 47 [43] - 29 - 6 - 2 | +24
DAL:  93 | 43 [42] - 32 - 7 - 2 |  +9

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
NSH: 21 [0.618] | 10 [ 8] - 6 - 1 - 1 |   0
DAL: 26 [0.650] | 12 [11] - 6 - 2 - 2 | +14

Power Play%
NSH: 16.7%, 21st
DAL: 24.5%,  4th

Penalty Kill%
NSH: 88.0%, 3rd
DAL: 86.3%, 6th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
NSH: 49.26%, 18th
DAL: 50.16%, 14th

 PDO
NSH: 100.07, 19th
DAL: 101.89,  3rd

 Notable Injuries
NSH: None
DAL: None

 Season Series
2018-11-10; NSH 5, DAL 4 OT
2018-12-27; DAL 2, NSH 0
2019-02-02; DAL 3, NSH 1
2019-02-07; DAL 2, NSH 3 OT
2019-02-19; NSH 5, DAL 3
NSH: 3-2-0 [0.600]
DAL: 2-1-2 [0.600]

Playoff History
None


 

C2. Winnipeg Jets vs C3. St. Louis Blues:  Hot damn, what fun it must be to be a St. Louis Blues fan right now.  At least, if you made it into 2019 alive, that is.  From last to >this close< to first, the Blues are perhaps the hottest team in these playoffs, from both a record and a uniform standpoint, though there is competition down below that you’ll see shortly.  I adore the Blues uniforms, and now that the team is better, they too just look better.  St. Louis’ resurrection has been a regression to the mean after an awfully unlucky start, but you cannot ignore the incredible goaltending of potential Calder winner Jordan Binnington.  Who knew solid goaltending was so important?  Well, if the Blues are going to have any success this post-season, the kid will have to show up as he did later in the winter.

The Jets are an enigma.  I would have expected them to be clear Cup favorites this season, but they’ve been just okay.  The Central Division saw its leaders stumble in the back half, leaving the door wide open for the resurgent Blues to take it over.  The Jets held on, though, and with home ice advantage, will bring the Winnipeg Whiteout blizzarding back into the playoffs.  What was once one of the most complete teams, though, has been disappointing.  Goaltending’s been okay, the top line’s put up good offensive numbers, yet I get the feeling there’s something missing.  Down the stretch they’ve been not great, in stark contrast to the Blues.  Before the season, I would have picked Winnipeg to go at least two rounds; now, it’s all St. Louis, baby!  Blues in five.  Pay no attention to the season series — the Jets just about swept the Blues back in 2018, but this is basically a different St. Louis team.  They might just be unstoppable.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WPG: 99 | 47 [45] - 30 - 5 - 1 | +27
STL: 99 | 45 [42] - 28 - 9 - 3 | +24

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WPG: 21 [0.525] | 10 [10] - 9 - 1 - 0 |  +3
STL: 27 [0.675] | 12 [10] - 5 - 2 - 2 | +14

Power Play%
WPG: 23.2%, 9th
STL: 28.3%, 2nd

Penalty Kill%
WPG: 76.4%,  26th
STL: 83.7%, T11th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WPG: 47.20%, 24th
STL: 54.69%,  6th

 PDO
WPG: 101.60, 4th
STL: 100.84, 9th

 Notable Injuries
WPG: Brandon Tanev
STL: Colton Parayko

 Season Series
2018-10-04; WPG 5, STL 1
2018-10-22; STL 4, WPG 5 OT
2018-11-24; WPG 8, STL 4
2018-12-07; STL 1, WPG 0
WPG: 3-1-0 [0.750]
STL: 1-2-1 [0.375]

Playoff History
None


P1. Calgary Flames vs C5. Colorado Avalanche:  First things first: the Calgary Flames announced that they will be wearing their retro third jerseys at home for the entirety of their playoff run.  Therefore, I’m putting them here and on the bracket even though they’re not the primary because they’re so. damn. hot. Suck it, Carolina! (who have also announced they’re wearing their alternates at home, but get no such love here.  Besides, Calgary’s gonna make them their primaries soon, right?)

Also, holy crap the Flames won the Western Conference!?  Color me surprised; as we’ve gone over, I put them out of the playoffs.  Now, this is the 30th anniversary of their first and only Cup championship as well as the 15th anniversary of their most recent Cup final appearance.  Does this interval portend greatness for Calgary?  I think, maybe!  They’ve got a date in the first round with the Colorado Avalanche, who took inspiration from the Flames of a few years ago in being seemingly unkillable when it matters, rallying to steal enough points from close games to edge into the Western Conference wildcard.

The Flames are awesome, though, and at least from my perspective, underrated.  50 wins is an achievement no matter how you look at it, and a +66 goal differential in this era is remarkable, especially when you think about who are even on this team’s top lines.  Speaking of, both of these teams are a little bit top heavy, so I’m going to rely on the back ends to break the tie here, and it’s not even close — Calgary takes the defensive battle in a walk and their possession numbers are the best in the league.  Mark Giordano should win the Norris Trophy, and Calgary should win this series handily.  Flames in five.  A valiant effort down the stretch from Colorado will regress into something more normal.  Also, there’s no such thing as loser points in the playoffs.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
CGY: 107 | 50 [50] - 25 -  7 - 4 | +66
COL:  90 | 38 [36] - 30 - 14 - 2 | +14

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
CGY: 22 [0.550] | 11 [11] - 9 - 0 - 0 | +17
COL: 24 [0.632] | 11 [ 9] - 6 - 2 - 1 |  +4

Power Play%
CGY:  8.6%, 30th (!)
COL: 21.4%, 13th

Penalty Kill%
CGY: 83.7%, T11th
COL: 87.0%,   5th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
CGY: 57.49%,  1st
COL: 49.66%, 17th

 PDO
CGY: 100.40, 12th
COL: 100.61, 11th

 Notable Injuries
CGY: Sam Bennett
COL: Mikko Rantanen

 Season Series
2018-10-13; CGY 3, COL 2 OT
2018-11-01; COL 5, CGY 6
2019-01-09; COL 3, CGY 5
CGY: 3-0-0 [1.000]
COL: 0-2-1 [0.167]

Playoff History
None

P2. San Jose Sharks vs P2. Vegas Golden Knights: This is crazy.  A second year team is already developing an intense playoff rivalry with an intra-division foe.  There are many, many drawbacks to the currently playoff format, but this series here is a result of one of its absolute best qualities.  What we see on the ice should be a renewed animosity between a pre-ordained juggernaut and a team that previously achieved astronomical success in the face of doubt and now sees themselves in a weird balance between under- and overrated.  The shine is starting to wear off in Vegas; at least the novelty of it all is for us outsiders.  The team on the ice, though, is really quite good; possibly better than the team that won the Pacific Division last year despite finishing 16th overall two spots behind a team that didn’t even make the playoffs.

The Sharks, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag.  A 100+ point season carried on the backs of Brent Burns’ beard and a few lengthy winning streaks has been marred by just as many extended losing streaks, crucial injuries, and absurdly mediocre goaltending — goaltending that may cost the Sharks and Joe Thornton their best chance at a Stanley Cup in years.  The first team that finds their footing after both’s late season stumbles will make the series theirs to take.  If they both surge at the same time it will be awesome, like that game on March 30th.  I will be rooting for the Sharks, as usual, but I have a bad feeling about this series.  Golden Knights in seven.  It will end in a heart-breaker on home ice. And no, the window won’t close in San Jose as suddenly as it’s been predicted to for years; it’s just going to get harder and harder from here on out amongst a slowly rising crop of young Pacific teams.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
SJS: 101 | 46 [46] - 27 - 9 - 3 | +31
VGK:  93 | 43 [40] - 32 - 7 - 2 | +18

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
SJS: 19 [0.500] |  9 [ 9] - 9 - 1 - 0 |  -3
VGK: 24 [0.632] | 11 [10] - 6 - 2 - 0 | +14

Power Play%
SJS: 18.9%, T17th
VGK: 15.6%,  24th

Penalty Kill%
SJS: 76.9%, 24th
VGK: 73.3%, 29th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
SJS: 54.98%, 5th
VGK: 55.93%, 4th

 PDO
SJS:  98.66, 26th
VGK: 100.70, 10th

 Notable Injuries
SJS: Timo Meier
VGK: None

 Season Series
2018-11-24; SJS 0, VGK 6
2019-01-10; SJS 3, VGK 2
2019-03-18; VGK 7, SJS 3
2019-03-30; VGK 3, SJS 4 OT
SJS: 2-2-0 [0.500]
VGK: 2-1-1 [0.625]

Playoff History
SJS: No series wins vs. VGK
VGK: 2018


After a crazy 2018, things have settled in a bit more this year.  Only five new teams appear here, though of these only Calgary and St. Louis are returning from a one year absence.  It’s still crazy that Carolina is finally back and I can list them in the Champs sine ’06 section for once.  Finally, the ever-continuing red/black vs. the field color battle rages on: 6 redblacks versus 10 mostly blues gives us decent odds of a non-redblack champ.  The streak must end at some point right?  My bracket’s got an all blue Final, so here’s hoping!

Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  6 — CBJ, NSH, SJS, STL, VGK, WPG
Cup Champions since 2006:  4 — CAR (’06), BOS (’11), PIT (’09, ’16, ’17), WSH (’18)
Longest Cup drought:  TOR & STL — 51 seasons
Returning teams:  11 — BOS, COL, CBJ,  NSH, PIT, SJS, TBL, TOR, VGK, WSH, WPG
Fresh blood:  5 — CAR, CGY, DAL, NYI, STL

I didn’t even touch the template once since last year — I guess it’s entered into a form that I like.  Why mess with perfection, am I right?

(A clock silently starts counting down…)

Aural Impressions: Sara Bareilles, Amidst the Chaos

Hallelujah, she’s back!  After a nearly four year hiatus; six if you count non-Broadway albums, Sara Bareilles has released another album of original studio material entitled Amidst the Chaos.  Since the fall, she’d been releasing occasional singles for the record, yet I forced myself to avoid listening to them until the album was released.  I’m not sure why.

Now, something incredible happened between then and now — Sara announced a sudden four-city tour, which included a stop in San Francisco.  The tour was announced just two days before tickets went on sale, and the shows were to take place starting only a week after that.  I’ve always grappled with the thought that seeing Sara again would never live up to the magic that was her solo tour, but good grief, she’s incredible no matter what.  On that Friday, I lurked on the ticket site for hours, sniping a pair the moment they went on sale.  Click, boom, done.  The tour sold out in seconds.  The day of the show, I arrived at the venue three hours early — there was already a line at least 20 people deep at the door.  Securing a spot off to the edge of the stage in front, we stood for another two hours before it even began.  My vantage point allowed me a view of the set list on the floor; I didn’t recognize most of the song titled.  That is, she was going to play this whole album.

It was awesome.  She was flanked by a five person band — two guitarists, an upright bass, a minimal drum set, and a keyboardist, with backup vocals spread amongst the group.  It was not what I was expecting — more jazz and soul than pop and rock, but wonderful nonetheless.

I didn’t plan it this way, yet I’m thankful I waited to listen to these songs.  They’re automatically tied to the memory of this incredible, hilarious, moving show.  The big question that remains is: does the studio album live up to the hype generated by her show?  Spoilers — my first impression is, not quite — but, there’s definitely room to grow into it.  It was produced by T Bone Burnett, who injects a healthy dose of Americana and organic acoustics into the whole production, as well as a perspective heretofore unseen within her catalog.  Intrigued?  Let’s go through these songs one after another, shall we?

  1. Fire: Oh, is it great to hear her voice on record again!  Especially an a Capella harmony featuring two multi-tracked Saras.  Suddenly, things take a turn in a new direction: jangly acoustic guitar and/or mandolin strumming is the only accompaniment, joined later by only a light galloping, dance-able rhythm.  The lush, yet simple instrumentation allows the layers of Sara’s vocals to shine, especially in a restrained, catchy chorus.  My favorite bit is the short sequence of descending, intertwined harmonies concluding the choruses with an elongated “Fire”, punctuated by a short refrain.  While this opener has a totally different feel than her past albums, there’s something extremely familiar about it — probably the harmonizing, which is ubiquitous throughout this song and draws upon her deep history in a Capella music.  A curious choice for an opener, but I like it!
  2. No Such Thing: I wrote that song about the Obamas.  I’m not even joking.” Heavy bass contrasts sharply with extremely high piano arpeggios and harps.  The acoustic feel continues; drums are played with brushes, the bass is an upright, and moody strings round out another vibrant, yet chill musical environment.  It’s so slow, almost tense.  A longing wail fills the pre-chorus, while the aria within quickly showcases Sara’s vocal range and precision; later, the bridge adds an extended falsetto.  Aside from some overdubbed strings, instrumentation remains minimal throughout.
  3. Armor:  Here’s the kick-ass song the first two were warming us up for.  “Armor” is driven by a groovy, bassy piano lick you can’t help but nod along to.  Feminist lyrics, dripping with sarcasm and biting commentary are a welcome sound — it feels like it’s been since Little Voice that we’ve had such pointed and aggressive, but simultaneously joyous and uplifting, lyrics from Sara.  Of course, it’s been a hell of a three years since the last album and this feels like a song we need right now.  The choruses are instant earworms, something I’ll surely wake up with in my head on a daily basis over the next month or so.  I’d consider it a companion to “Brave.”  A sister song, if you will.  This was an excellent choice for lead single.
  4. If I Can’t Have You:  Funky!  There’s a lot of soul influence in this song — groovy electric guitar, a shuffling drum beat, and the ever-present upright bass.  A blast of backing “oohs” in the later verses and choruses shifts the mood in a gospel-y direction.  It’s not Sara doing the harmonies either; these outside voices add a dimension and texture to supplement Sara’s consistently smooth vocals.  And of course there’s a classic modulation after the bridge, furthering the push into Sara’s upper range.  She’s sounding better than ever.
  5. Eyes on You:  An enveloping muted guitar pushes us forward, while the vocals start and stop, portraying vignettes of everyday folks and their anxieties.  As the chorus breaks, this one takes a decidedly Traveling Wilburys feel; the stuttering muted guitars combine with a steady drum to create locomotion.  There’s a feeling throughout this song of reluctance, where the vocals resist, but give in at the persistent urge of the guitar, which is ultimately representing time’s unrelenting march.  I really like the steady descending chords of the bridge — there hadn’t been much movement in the chord progression to that point, with only a melancholy-twinged pre-chorus hope spot to break it open.  This is a completely unique-feeling song among Sara’s repertoire — a feeling that hits several times across this record.
  6. Miss Simone:  Sara on the guitar — it’s been a minute.  This is an absolutely lovely ballad; strong but soft vocals soar over the jazzily-acoustic backing band, front and center.  Throughout the narrative, she makes it feel like there’s nobody else around but her and the subject of her desires.  The four-chord I-V-ii-IV progression is perfect — I adore the minor second.  In fact, there is a smattering of atypical chord switches, keeping the listener on their toes.  It’s heart-wrenching, comforting, but uneasy at the same time.  You could say it sounds exactly like falling in love feels.  Or, at least the romantic ideal of falling in love.  This is the kind of song Sara absolutely excels at, yet has only done less than a handful of times.  It reminds me heavily of “I Just Want You,” and unreleased ukelele song she performed on her 2013 solo tour, albeit warmer and more lively.  I have a feeling I’ll be listening to this one a lot.
  7. Wicked Love:  Reluctant staccato piano tangles with uncertain vocals as happy drums and bass bounce behind.  The conversational tone and spacey accompaniment remind me a lot of The Blessed Unrest while the layered vocal crescendos in the second half of the verses recalls the songs of Waitress.  I bet it would fit pretty seamlessly into the musical or, at the very least, What’s Inside.  All that said, this might yet be the most Kaleidoscope Heart song on the album.  Something about it just feels like it belongs in 2010, despite the complete shifts among most of the other songs so far on this record.  It’s good, if not especially memorable, though I adore the closing bars.
  8. Orpheus:  A relaxing, warm song based around swirling guitars and plodding upright.  I picture a fireplace crackling away at night, even before Sara sings “come by the fire.”  Her lower register here is like a blanket; comforting and cozy.  It’s another something new, yet so basic I’m shocked she hasn’t really done a lot of contralto singing before.  It mingles nicely with her typical alto vocals throughout the choruses as the two guitars also interweave their parts.  It reminds me a lot of Joshua Radin, which actually makes me think he could do an awesome cover of this.  I only wish this had been released in the late fall or winter.  It’s that kind of song.
  9. Poetry By Dead Men:  There’s finally piano again.  Sort of.  It’s chipper and bright, but distorted and very slightly moving in and out of pitch — very Arcade Fire, though that comparison is short lived.  Curiously, the vocal phrasing — quickly sung in stretches of monotone and often overshooting the bars — reminds me a lot of HAIM.  I wonder what that’s all about?  Overall, I’m not sure this one really has any sticking power.  It’s alright, but it’s a definite lull in the late middle of an otherwise stellar run of songs.
  10. Someone Who Loves Me:  This is the only song off this record that Sara did not play at the concert.  It was supposed to be the first encore, but she swapped it out for “Gravity.”  Honestly, I’m not sure if she should have done that — this song is really good.  It’s atmospheric, moody, and tender, with excellent deployment of tri-tones in the verses and choruses.  A male accompaniment comes in during the second chorus, which is new (if you ignore Jason Mraz on What’s Inside).  No idea who it is, though it sounds a lot like him, actually. (Edit: It’s Joey Ryan from Milk Carton Kids)  Like “Orpheus,” this is a song that would be awesome to listen to on a dark winter’s night.
  11.  Saint Honesty:  At the show, Sara told us the story of how this song was recorded in a single take — and god damn is it a magical one.  It’s Sara at the piano; reserved brushes, bass and guitar stay well behind her.  Her vocals effortlessly slide between powerful and delicate, smooth as velvet and pitch perfect.  There are similarities to “Stay,” from Once Upon Another Time, but this lands heavier, with more confidence and maturity.  As it evolves, Sara is slowly unleashed, letting her outstanding vocal prowess shine ever stronger — the bridge and its transition into the final chorus is truly a standout moment on a Sara Bareilles album, perhaps one of my favorite single stretches in a song in years.  She closed her show with this song, and yeah, we all went home happy that night.
  12. A Safe Place To Land:  To finish, Sara duets with John Legend in a moving ode inspired by the suffering of migrants in recent years.  Strong piano chords bolster words softer than clouds, while the music shifts between stable and uncertain in a major/major/minor sequence.  During an uplifting bridge, Sara’s vocals are high and gentle as John’s are strained and loud below — piano steady as strings crescendo and a plucked mandolin arcs.  It closes on a hopeful note amidst a gently chaotic swirl of tremolo strings.

I’m going to need a minute.  There’s so much here and it ends so strongly that I’ve actually kind of already forgotten the first half.  Overall, it’s a very different album — there are far more acoustic guitars than pianos, and the band’s equipment remains largely consistent throughout.   Burnett’s production keeps is stripped back and simple, while also bringing in influences across several genres past and present.  There are so many phenomenal self-harmonies, but also a handful of random, unexpected vocal accompaniments.  There are several immediately gripping standout tracks (“Armor,” “Miss Simone,” “Saint Honesty”) and a bunch that I know will grow on me.  I have to credit Sara immensely for indulging in these varying styles.  I may just skip “If I Can’t Have You” more than I listen to it, but then again, it might result in me expanding my own tastes.  Lyrically, it’s heavily influenced by the current political climate, which is an omnipresent source of anxiety and dread these days.  During her show, Sara often noted how she dealt with these anxieties through her music, and perhaps this album will help me cope as well.  Amongst her previous work, I really can’t say where this lands for me.  It’s a really good album; I just need some time for it to sink in and take me over.  The concert in March was an excellent start — let’s see where it goes from here.