Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
NHL regular-season openers, Friday: Kings vs. New York Rangers in Stockholm, Sweden, 10 a.m. Versus; Ducks vs. Buffalo in Helsinki, Finland, 10 a.m.:
Frack! The NHL apparently redeemed a coupon from Ikea, and the furniture store was given instructions to assemble the start of its 2011-12 schedule.
Step One: Grab your hex wrench. Step Two: Send the two Southern California teams more than 5,000 miles from their ektorps to spread the good will of pucks in Scandinavia. Step three: Meatballs, anyone? Tighten, right. Loosen, left.
The Rangers have the real home-ice advantage here — goalie Henrik Lundqvist (as in LUHND-kvihst) is from Are, Sweden (if that’s not confusing enough) and the painfully handsome Olympic gold-medal winning goalie for his country at the 2006, who also minded the nets in the 2010 Games, will be our tourguide for the weekend. The Rangers’ Sean Avery may also claim to be from Sweden, but Kings players know not to listen to him any more. Outside of Anze Kopitar (from Slovenia), no one from the Kings’ roster is from anywhere outside Canada or the U.S. that we can tell. In fact, Drew Doughty better show up with the right passport of the Kings could be in trouble. After these two openers, the dance partners flip on Saturday — the Kings’ European vacation continues some 600 miles south to Berlin to meet up with the Sabres (11 a.m., FSW) while the Rangers stay put and wait for the Ducks to arrive in Stockholm (10 a.m., Versus). Then, its homeward bound, where we should have enough time to blow up the giant inflatable Stanley Cup that finally arrived from nhl.com (linked here).
MLB playoffs: ALDS Game 3s: Texas at Tampa Bay, 2 p.m., and N.Y. Yankees at Detroit, 5:30 p.m., TBS:
Battles of the Aces, Take Two: It’ll look like CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander are going on two days rest, since both started Game 1. Not to rain on any more parades, but since they only went one inning prior to the wet weather, they should be vacuum sealed for freshness. Verlander, who says he volunteered to pitch Game 2 Saturday, actually had a better road mark than at home during his probably AL Cy Young campaign: 14-2 with 133 strike outs in 18 starts away from home, versus 10-3 at home in 16 starts. The two Game 4s will be Tuesday in Tampa (11 a.m., TBS) and Detroit (5:30 p.m., TBS) with Game 5s, if needed, on Thursday back in Texas and New York.
NFL: Indianapolis at Tampa Bay, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
After going 227 games in a row with Peyton Manning, the Colts have their second starting QB as many weeks. Curtis Painter? With Dan Orlovsky as the backup? You sure they couldn’t do a deal right now with Carolina and see if Jimmy Clausen was available in trade? Jimmy Fallon?
MLB playoffs: NLDS Game 3s: Philadelphia at St. Louis, 2 p.m., TBS; Milwaukee at Arizona, 6:30 p.m., TNT:
We all know the Phillies have so much pitching depth, this could be a seven-game series and they’d be able to send someone new to the mound each time. Here, it’s Cole Hamels’ turn as the series moves to
Atlanta St. Louis. He was 0-1 against the Cards this year with a 5.14 ERA. If Game 4s in either series are needed, they’d be Wednesday in St. Louis (3 p.m., TBS, Roy Oswalt against Edwin Jackson) and Arizona (6:30 p.m., TBS, where the Brewers plan to use former El Camino Real and Pepperdine standout Randy Wolf against Joe Saunders) while Game 5s would be Friday in Philadelphia and Milwaukee with all the Game 1 starters back to throw.
MLS: Galaxy at N.Y. Red Bulls, 5 p.m., ESPN2:
No bull: When Hurricane Irene got all crazy last August, this one was postponed and rebooked for tonight. Check the energy level at the stadium. Robbie Keane has already said this presents a double-booking problem for him — he’s back in Ireland to join the national team for two Euor ’12 qualifiers.
WNBA Finals: Atlanta at Minnesota, Game 2, 5 p.m, ESPN2:
The last pro basketball you may see until Christmas. The best-of-five continues with Game 3 (Friday, 5 p.m., ESPN2) and maybe Game 4 (Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN2).
NHL: Philadelphia at Boston, 4 p.m., Versus; Pittsburgh at Vancouver, 7 p.m, Versus:
Pick the current Stanley Cup champ, and the Western Conference champ from a season ago out of these four teams playing in the first domestic NHL games of the season. Not so easy, is it? Except, maybe that Vancouver is the only Western Conference team in this bunch. Three are 100 regular-season games on NBC and Versus, the later of which will be renamed NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2
Golf: Frys.com Open, first round, 1 p.m., Golf Channel:
Tiger Woods, officially out of the Top 50 world rankings for the first time since 1996, needs to set foot into the “fall season” as a warmup to justify his inclusion in the Presidents Cup next month. Frys has always done him well by promoting his video games. So why not play in the Frys.com Open at the CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, just a bit south of San Jose off the 101? There’s gotta be a sweet sponsors goodie bag with some discount coupons (like a device that might erase cellphone answer machine messages from anywhere in the U.S.?) Plus, Rocco Mediate is back to defend his title, so maybe there’s some deja vu U.S. Open mojo working here. “Any time Rocco is in the field, it’s always fun,” said Woods, who is without a tour win since the 2009 BMW Championships. For a guy who has just two top-10s in eight starts this past PGA season, he’s still doing pretty good drawing a crowd.
College football: Cal at Oregon, 6 p.m., ESPN:
After four games, Cal is second in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (only two TDs allowed, and 78.2 yards allowed a game). After four games, Oregon leads the Pac-12 in rushing offense (13 TDs, a tick below 300 yards a game), led by LaMarcus James (65 carries, 613 yards, 153 a game).
Series: “The League,” season debut, 7:30 p.m., FX:
The third season of the almost funny cable series (linked here) created by the husband-and-wife team of Jeff Schaffer and Jackie Marcus Schaffer moves along into TV land with our full endorsement — as long as Leslie Bibb has a recurring role. The five guys (and one of the guy’s wife) are all about duping the other owners as they go after the Shiva Cup (named after one of the players’ ex-girl friend). Chad Ochocinco (above, endorsing his own condom), Antonio Gates, Josh Cribbs, Terrell Suggs and Terry Bradshaw have made cameo appearances in the past. All to help the Fox family.
Movie: “Real Steel,” PG-13, in theatres:
The posters say: “Human boxing is dead. Now it’s a whole different game.” Hugh Jackman toggling with moster-sized Rock ‘em-Sock ‘em Robots beating the WD-40 out of each other is how this plays out.
College football: Washington State at UCLA, Rose Bowl, 7:30 p.m., FSN:
The Cougars’ victory over Colorado last Saturday caused a few ripples in the conference. Quarterback Marshall Lobbestael has the Pac-12′s third-best passer rating (168.3) and is averaging 333 yards throwing a game. The Bruins may not have an answer.
College football: Ohio State at Nebraska, 5 p.m., Channel 7; TCU at San Diego State, 7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network:
USC has a bye week. Take a choice from the limited buffet.
MLB: ALCS Game 1: 4:30 p.m., Channel 11:
When the Rangers outlasted the Yankees in six games during last year’s ALCS, it didn’t hurt by having Cliff Lee on the staff. Or Josh Hamilton hitting four home runs. See if that works out again — this time, the Yankees would have home-field advantage. The series continues Sunday after the NFL afternoon games at 4:30 p.m., then moves venues.
MLB: NLCS Game 1: 1 p.m., TBS:
If the Phillies get here with a five-game win in the NLDS, Cliff Lee is the probable starter here in Game 1. Funny, eh?
NASCAR: Chase for the Sprint Cup Hollywood Casino 400, Kansas Speedway, 11 a.m., ESPN:
Not to be confused with the Hollywood Park Casino, this chain that takes Hollywood as its name apparently is an operation the Midwest — including one built into the Kansas Speedway — that likes to give the appearance that it’s all about glitz and glamor. The only Hollywood Casino we were aware of was one in Joliet, Ill., after a couple sued the place after finding bed bugs in their room and were not sufficiently compensated after “doctor visits, lost property and a ruined weekend.” That couldn’t possibly happen at the Kansas Speedway facility. The high-octane content in the air would have killed the bugs long before you got into bed with them So don’t think it’s such a crap shoot.
NFL: San Diego at Denver, 1:15 p.m., Channel 2:
Not only does the L.A. market get force-fed this game instead of New England hosting the N.Y. Jets, but it’s more than likely that the Raiders’ 10 a.m. game against Houston at 1 p.m., will lead into it. Just hope there’s no nail-biter in the early contest, because you already know how that’ll end on the TV screen — poorly.
NFL: Green Bay at Atlanta, 5:20 p.m., Channel 4:
The Cowboys are one of six teams with a bye this week — with the Ravens, Browns, Dolphins, Rams and Redskins. But as you watch Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan play here, keep in mind the essay that Bob Costas gave at halftime of the Jets-Ravens game on this very network, an ode to Tony Romo: ”
The question of the week is this: is there any marquee player in the NFL who is alternatively as electrifying and exasperating as Tony Romo? Here’s a guy who see-saws between hero’s laurels and goat horns, seemingly game to game. And today, it was half to half. Romo had three TD throws in the first 33 minutes against the undefeated Lions, but then, three picks – two of them returned for touchdowns.
“This has been the pattern of Romo’s season, and, as it’s shaping up, his career. At any moment he is apt to rescue his team with feats of daring do, often showing the presence of mind to improvise his way out of one crisis after another. And then, the next week, or maybe the next moment, he’ll turn in a performance or make a decision that sends Cowboys fans to the ledge.
“This season started in disaster against the Jets, with a late fumble and interception that cost Dallas a game they appeared to have won. But that was followed by gritty efforts with broken ribs against the 49ers and Redskins.
“And then came (Sunday’s) misadventures against Detroit, as a 27-3 lead somehow went up in smoke. Don Banks of Sports Illustrated has tabbed Romo the NFL’s MPP- Most Pivotal Player. A guy who seems just as likely to singlehandedly pull a game out or give it away. As Banks correctly notes, you could make a case that without Romo, the Cowboys might be 0-4 or maybe 4-0. What that averages out to is 2-2, which is where they are right now heading into their bye week, which is followed by a trip to New England and a date with the Patriots.
“So, there will be plenty for the newspapers to dissect and debate over the next two weeks. It’s all very interesting and all very entertaining, provided you don’t have a rooting interest. But for those who do, this sort of topsy turvy ride that winds up in the neighborhood of .500 is not what Jerry Jones, Tony Romo or legions of Cowboys fans had in mind.”