Into the Boards: Columbus Turnaround? Wild Underdogs?
Before we dive into all the action the past week of the NHL season has brought us, Scott and I would like to give a shoutout and tremendous thank you to all the veterans out there. To the past and present protectors and fighters of our nation: from the bottom of our hearts we are so grateful for your sacrifice and dedication to keeping us protected and free.
Last week was a ripper. The Wild started to come alive and are currently holding the first spot in the Western Conference wild card race. The Calgary (low lit) Flames will continue to fade after losing Johnny Hockey to hand surgery. In the east, the Columbus Blue Jackets are scoring in bunches (sometimes) and the Washington Capitals capped off the week with a decisive victory against their rival Penguins.
We also sat down with the mega-homie Tim Howley of Fit For An Autopsy to talk some puck. Let’s go!
Hope in Ohio?
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a work in progress. Their dismal start to last season led to the dismissal of head coach Todd Richards, the addition of John Tortorella as his replacement (sorry, Brandon Dubinsky), and star forward Ryan Johansen being shipped off to Nashville to bring in Seth Jones to address a need on the back end. Since then, expectations have remained somewhat low in Columbus, but recent weeks have given Jackets’ fans glimmers of hope. Columbus has gone 5-1-1 since the start of November, including an astounding 10-0 victory over league leaders Montreal Canadiens, during which Cam Atkinson, Scott Hartnell, Nick Foligno, and Josh Anderson had two goals EACH. The Jackets impressed again this past week with another offensive explosion in an 8-4 win over a strong St. Louis Blues team, this time with a two goal performance by Sam Gagner and additional contributions by Brandon Dubinsky and Alexander Wennberg. While I’ve never been the biggest fan of John “Marian Gaborik Should Lay Down in Front of Slapshots” Tortorella, he is clearly pushing the right buttons right now and getting a heavy effort from his boys. My fear for Columbus is that Tortorella’s infamous hard-ass style will weigh down on his players in the long-term (ask Rangers fans), but time will tell if he’s adapted his coaching style to the new NHL.
Rockin’ the Red
While the past seven days have been reasonably average for Washington on paper, a decisive 7-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions compelled me to write about the high-flying Caps. Although they only posted a 2-1-1 record on the week, it’s important to note the weight of those two wins, one being over the decorated Chicago Blackhawks and the other against their bitter rival Pittsburgh Penguins, proving again that Washington can run with the best. Nicklas Backstrom seems to have returned to form after a few lackluster games against San Jose, Chicago, and Carolina as he scored a goal in Columbus and orchestrated an explosive five point night at home against Pittsburgh. When Backstrom gets going, he is easily one of the best playmakers in the game, causing all kinds of trouble for the opposition. I’ve said before that the Caps won’t repeat their President’s Trophy magic of last year, but make no mistake in thinking that they’ve taken much of a step back. Alex Ovechkin has showed up in spurts this season, putting up eight goals and four assists for 12 points through 16 games, but it’s only a matter of time before he goes on a tear and reminds the world that he is the best pure goal scorer in hockey. The Caps currently sit four points behind the red hot New York Rangers, but when things cool down in Manhattan, look for Washington to be right on their trail.
Call of the Wild
In the offseason, the Minnesota Wild made some major moves to help lead them in the right direction and ultimately give them the best opportunity to finally push for the Cup. Perhaps their biggest move was the signing of head coach in Bruce “Gabby” Boudreau. Gabby had some solid success with the Anaheim Ducks, leading them to four consecutive division titles, but he was let go after a game seven loss at home to the Predators back in April, marking his fourth game seven loss in four seasons. The Wild also hit the free agent market and signed veteran centerman and Stanley Cup champion Eric Staal to a three year deal, who is definitely bouncing back after stale year that he split between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers. Minnesota was looking to add experience and depth to their young team and it seems to be working; they currently find themselves on top of the wild card race in the West. There is a lot of talent on this team; veterans in Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are leading the way, setting a good example and rubbing off on young studs Matt Dumba, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund. Because of the competition in their division, I doubt the Wild will be able to hold this position for long. I’ll admit though, it’s always refreshing to see an underdog do well and there are still plenty of games left to play. Only time will tell where they end up by the end of the season.
The Calgary Flames have been off to a very slow start, and it seems that this low flame will not be burning brighter anytime soon. Calgary currently sits in 5th place in the Pacific division with the Vancouver Canucks right on their tail. Earlier in the week, the Flames were on a four game losing streak, but held onto a 1-0 lead Tuesday night to beat the Wild. Despite snapping their losing streak, the Flames had their best player and leading scorer in young Johnny Gaudreau leave late in the third period after he took a bad slash to his wrist. Upon further examination, it turns out that Johnny Hockey will need to undergo surgery to repair a fractured finger. There is still no timetable for how long the recovery process will take, but this certainly isn’t good for the already struggling Flames. It is also rumored that Calgary is in talks to move 23 year old defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Pittsburgh Penguins, so fans are hoping to get a good return if the trade goes through. While it’s still early in the season, I highly doubt Calgary will really turn it around this season. Even though they signed veteran Troy Brouwer in the offseason and have tremendous potential in young forwards in Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, and Matthew Tkachuk, it’s clear that this season is just not their year.
Player of the Week
Vin: Tuukka Rask. Homeboy KILLED it last week. He recorded four wins, shutting out the Buffalo Sabres AND the Colorado Avalanche. Sporting a superb 0.75 goals against average and a .970 save percentage last week, it’s clear Tuukka is a Vezina option with a record 10-1-0 on the season so far.
Scott: Nicklas Backstrom. One of my favorite players to watch. His magic mitts finished the week with three goals and three assists for six points, five of which came all in one game against Pittsburgh. Watch for Backie to catch fire.
ITB Special Guest: Fit For An Autopsy’s Tim Howley
My good friend and fellow hockey fan Tim Howley gets checked Into The Boards in this week’s special interview. Check it out and go see Fit For An Autopsy this weekend if you live on the east coast; they will be shredding it up with Ion Dissonance for a few select dates posted below.
ITB: Hey Tim, for those who don’t know you, tell a us a little about yourself and your band.
Tim: My name is Tim Howley and I play guitar in a band called Fit For an Autopsy. My life consists of guitars, motorcycles, and hockey.
As a fellow lover of hockey, which is your favorite team? Which team can you not stand or do you love to hate?
My number one will always be the Islanders. I grew up going to games at Nassau Coliseum when I was a kid. My number two team is the Los Angeles Kings. There aren’t many teams I hate except for the Rangers. That rivalry will never die. I hate players more than I hate teams. A lot of people will hate on the whole team just because of certain players and I’m not down with that.
What’s your favorite memory as a hockey fan?
It’s actually a recent memory. Last season I won a contest from Dollar Beard Club and the Islanders. It was the Bring The Beard contest for best beard in Islanders gear. I was on tour in Arizona, and actually flew back for the day. They gave me an Islanders prize pack along with a suite for me and 13 friends. That game they played the Tampa Bay Lightning, which was a repeat of the matchup from my first Islanders game ever.
Who is your favorite hockey player of all time, and why?
I couldn’t give you a favorite hockey player of all time — when I was a kid I paid attention more to the whole team, not players individually. By the time I was 12, I got out of sports and into music. I didn’t get into hockey again until about four or five years ago. So no one really stuck with me from when I was a kid. As for current players, I’d probably say Cal Clutterbuck is up there. Recently I’ve enjoyed watching Connor McDavid play just because of his immense talent.
If you could lay a punishing open ice hit on any hockey player, who would you lay out and why?
I’m pretty sure everybody would answer this question with Sidney Crosby, because that’s the easy answer and it would feel great. But I’m going to go with Dustin Byfuglien or Matt Martin. Both of those players deliver such crushing blows that I feel it would give me great honor to reciprocate that. And honestly, how awesome would it be to tell all of your friends that you knocked Dustin Byfuglien on his ass?
Realistically speaking, which two teams are in the finals this year? And out of the two, who takes home the Cup?
With the way each team is playing I would be very surprised if it wasn’t the Blackhawks and Rangers. I feel it’s way too early in the season to make a dead set answer but the Rangers are playing some hardcore puck right now.
Thanks again, Tim, for taking the time to chat with us. ITB readers, make sure to check out Tim Howley and Fit For An Autopsy on Facebook and if you’re on the East Coast catch them playing with Ion Dissonance at these select dates:
11/18 – The Colosseum – Providence, RI
11/19 – Revolution Bar & Music Hall – Amityville, NY
11/20 – The Fuze Box – Albany, NY