HockeyHighlightDome, Night 1 of Overtime vs. On the Fly

Night 1, Monday, January 10

NHL Overtime, 11:00 PM ET, VERSUS

Host: Former Daily Line host Liam McHugh has been doing spot-work hosting the show on occasion, and leads the proceedings this evening.

Analysts: Billy Jaffe has become sort of the lead analyst for this show, when he isn’t doing 400 other things. Joining him is former New Jersey Devil and MSG Plus analyst Ken Daneyko.

Lead Story: VERSUS bombards you with bulletpoints of news of the day with quick highlights of games in process, but the first story discussed in depth was the Rangers/Coyotes trade of Michal Roszival and Wojtek Wolski.

Lead Highlights: Penguins/Bruins. While one could call this cross-promoting the game of the night on the network, I’ve seen VERSUS go without their game until well past the first commercial break on various nights. Pittsburgh/Boston was the story. VERSUS effectively broke down how this was sort of a vengeance theme for the Bruins, showing footage from their late loss to Montreal on Saturday night, contrasted with highlights from their comeback win over the Pens.

Non-Highlight Footage: After the first commercial break, the Boston/Pittsburgh discussion continued with a hit from the men who called the game for VERSUS earlier that night, Joe Beninati and Andy Brickley. While this is often good, it is too limited to VERSUS and Comcast SportsNet broadcasts. A big win would be for the network to get something from all the sports networks.

Meanwhile, in what was nearly a full 10 minutes spent on one game, Billy Jaffe broke down elements of the Boston power play on his beloved video board, which no NHL On VERSUS analyst has found better use for. Jaffe is an effective and enthusiastic teacher of the game, and if I were NHL Network (or VERSUS), I’d find a way to get him to do a half-hour, weekly NFL Matchup-esque show where Jaffe breaks down highlights from all of the week’s key games. The NHL has never had a sort of “chalkboard X’s and O’s” type show. I’d implore the new management at NHL Net to take a look into doing something like this.

Meanwhile, after an interview, Daneyko and Jaffe talked about the Jamie Langenbrunner trade, which the show was not able to cover last week (Air on Fridays and Saturdays, you guys!).

Interviews: Using their crew for the night, reporter Bob Harwood had an interview with Boston goaltender Tukka Rask after the Bruins/Pens highlights. In a later segment, McHugh and the analysts did a phoner with Stars captain Brendan Morrow, which – while he isn’t the world’s top interview – did a good job at getting past the stock questions, especially when discussing the Stars ownership issues.

Time Spent on Sidney Crosby and/or Alexander Ovechkin: With Crosby out of the Bruins/Pens game, the network spent time showing statistics for the Penguins with and without Sir Sidney, then discussed Crosby’s absence effect on the rest of the lineup. Then, he was the headliner of the head shots discussion.

Spreading the Love (West Coast Coverage): While it airs prior to any 10:00 or 10:30 PM ET games end, Overtime makes a concerted effort to pay attention to the Western Conference, probably better than its sister show Hockey Central. Viewers are immediately given an update on late games in progress at the top of the show, while those games are revisited and broken down further at the end of the game, and in the case of tonight, after the second commercial and additionally late in the show.

Plus, hey! A discussion of the Sedin twins. Can’t beat that.

Features: VERSUS sometimes will present taped featurettes (they succeeded here during the World Juniors in particular) but there was little presented, besides the three stars of the week, plays of the week, and yet another nonsense edition of the Guardian Project. Does anyone like that? Also, Daneyko and Jaffe present their versions of the All-Star team with the announcements of the actual team later today. Lead to some interesting banter about who should be at the game.

Controversial Material: The debate on head shots was up for the panel at about 20 minutes into the show. There was little gained from the debate on head shots, though the idea was brought up that Hedman’s hit made the David Steckel hit worse. Daneyko and Jaffe seemed just as baffled at how to balance the toughness and the suspensions as the NHL head honchos seem. Good on Jaffe and Daneyko for calling that Steve Downie hit from Saturday to be suspension-worthy. That said, it was good to see the rules explained and the differences between past eras laid out courtesy of Daneyko.

Flat-out Bizarre: A quick hit from controversy hog Inez Sainz from the Dakar Rally where she flirts with Ken Daneyko. I think.

NHL On the Fly, 1:00 AM ET, NHL Network

Host: Brian Duff, who seems to have had his time on the network cut since David Amber arrived, but is a competent lead anchor.

Analysts: Bill Berg and the perpetually youthful Mike Johnson. Berg, incidentally, constantly seems to have a face similar to John C. Reilly.

Lead Story: Pittsburgh/Boston in general. Wolski trade wasn’t discussed until about 15 minutes into the show.

Lead Highlights: Again, Pittsburgh/Boston. Note that On the Fly no longer does highlights without narration on all of its’ games anymore. Not sure why this is especially necessary, particularly on a night where there are few enough games so they can spend time going over highlights again and again, but Duff, Johnson and Berg talk over these. They do it a tad differently from VERSUS, where the host and analyst trade highlight descriptions. Here, its more as if Duff is on play-by-play, while Berg and Johnson chime in when they can. Interestingly, they spent less time with the game from the top of the show than Overtime. NHL Network went to break and then another game after six minutes, whereas OT had about 15 minutes from Boston/Pittsburgh.

Non-Highlight Footage: On the Fly doesn’t try to break out a bunch of tech toys to break down the game, but they do take a look at what they can from every possible angle. Fact is, the show goes a little deeper and avoids some of the more glitz and glamour NHL stories for the sake of taking an in-depth look into every game.

Interviews: See Central Scouting feature below. Additionally, Landeskog was put on an in-studio interview.

Time Spent on Sidney Crosby and/or Alexander Ovechkin: Crosby’s absence is highlighted at the top of the show. NHL Network chooses to focus specifically on what Evgeni Malkin needs to do, and has done in the past, when Crosby has been missing from game action. Berg then talked about his game against the Bruins. Overall, I felt Crosby’s absence had less of a presence in the show, or that it was spread out a little bit better. You can debate whether or not its for the better.

Spreading the Love (West Coast Coverage): As an NHL Network show, On the Fly sees itself as an equal opportunity champion of all 30 teams, whereas other shows may have east coast bias. Also, their final show’s 1AM airtime has the advantage of going on the air after every game is completed. Thus, Detroit/Colorado’s highlights were second up for the entire show.

Features: NHL Network got a big victory in my book for presenting the NHL Central Scouting rankings tonight, and having EJ McGuire in studio to discuss it. While VERSUS may not be able to have a draft expert on the show, they should have found a way to make at least a cursory mention of the rankings. Billy Jaffe’s an occasional college hockey analyst, so he could’ve at least said a few things. I can’t help but think that, while the Brendan Morrow phoner was good, it might’ve improved the show to have a phoner with McGuire. However, let us focus on the fact that On the Fly did, and they should be praised for having them and having a bit of insider knowledge into the whole process.

Also intense and terrific was the insider look at how they come up with these rankings. I could watch a full-length documentary on that, which may say more about my life than anything else. I would have liked, and perhaps this is just me being a homer, a question about what player the New Jersey Devils (c’mon, we all know they’re probably the top lottery chance) might focus on. Otherwise, immensely valuable stuff.

Most of the second “period” of the show was developed to CSS, with an additional piece on #1 ranked Gabriel Landeskog, with some awkwardly shot analysis from Craig Button. Great piece on a kid who looks like a player any team would want. I ended up with a hugely favorable opinion on the guy, and NHL Network is doing a good job introducing these future prospects to at least the diehard NHL fan.

Controversial Material: Maybe they covered the headshot stuff over the weekend, but no mention was made of Crosby’s comments on the situation.

Overall

Both NHL Network and VERSUS did some good and bad things on this first night. VERSUS does a solid job of presenting the basic features to the casual fan, with what looks to be a goal of inspiring a water-cooler debate between hardcore puckheads. On the Fly is a nuts and bolts show, with nearly a half hour spent on the NHL Central Scouting rankings, which Overtime completely ignored. However, Overtime presented a look at the Crosby comments/headshot debate, one of the most burning topics in the NHL today, while On the Fly didn’t touch the subject. Regardless, I think both shows can be proud of the fact that they entertained me, the diehard hockey fan, for a full hour. I didn’t for one second moan at the prospect of having to sit through any more of either show. We’ll see how that continues tomorrow night.

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