Into the Boards: Blue Jackets are on Fire, Canucks are a Dumpster Tire Fire
Hello, ITB readers! I know we’re all mentally checked out from work, focusing our attention to our “Top 10” year-end lists, finishing up our Christmas shopping and looking to make some free agent fantasy pickups to help clinch a quick win during this short week of puck, but there’s still plenty to go over before the holiday break on this short NHL week. Let’s get you cotton-headed ninny muggins all caught up!
Eastern Conference Highlights
One of my favorite Eastern Conference rivalries to watch in recent years has been Tampa Bay vs Detroit. Both teams have been highly competitive and have often met in the postseason, but so far this year they’re both underperforming and fighting to stay in the wild card race, which comes as a shock for Tampa.
We spoke last week about how the Red Wings are losing a lot of close games due to a lack of offensive production, but the Lightning have also been struggling lately, losing nine out of their last 12 games. The issue for Tampa has been losing key players like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Ryan Callahan to injuries.
On Tuesday night in the Sunshine State the injury bug was out for blood as 12 minutes into the first period Big Ben Bishop stretched out his right leg to make a save and wound up in terrible pain lying face down on the ice. He left the game and did not return. Further evaluation concluded that the netminder will miss three to four weeks.
Still on its bloodlust, the injury bug targeted Erik Condra who took a nasty spill into the net. Red Wings defenseman Nick Jensen stepped up in an effort to stop the shot, but it resulted in the players colliding in the paint and falling down onto goaltender Jimmy Howard’s right leg. Howard was clearly in a lot of pain and was escorted off the ice. He was diagnosed with a “lower body injury” and was placed on the IR with no timetable for a return.
Tampa continued on with Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, and outscored the cold Red Wings with a score of 4-1. The Lightning will obviously be at a disadvantage without Bishop, but so far this season Vasilevskiy has been their go to guy. This will test Vasilevskiy’s ability to shoulder the burden of playing nearly every game.
The Eastern Conference is wild right now and I would have never expected Philly, Columbus, or Ottawa to be ahead of the Lightning in the race for playoff position, but here we are. I doubt the Lightning will stay this mediocre; they can only get better when their players return to full health. The next few weeks all fall on the shoulders of Vasilevskiy and whether or not he’s able to stay consistent every night with limited rest.
Unbeatable Blue Jackets
Thursday evening the Columbus Blue Jackets hosted the first place Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets have been unstoppable as of late, going for their 11th straight win.
Five minutes into the first period, Sid the kid Crosby did what he does best: score goals. Taking a 1-0 lead early in the first, the Pens were looking to end the win streak and upset the Blue Jackets at home. Battling back, Columbus forward Cam Atkinson received a beautiful pass from Nick Foligno and ripped it past Penguins netminder Matt Murray for a game tying power play goal. Back and forth they went into the second period, both teams playing great defense with Matt Murray and Sergei Bobrovsky making some great saves in net. Finally, ten minutes into the second, a falling Sam Gagner makes a pass from behind the net to William Karlsson who roofs a quick shot over Matt Murray. After a second look, the Refs verify the goal giving the Jackets a 2-1 lead.
This ladies and gentlemen, is where all hell broke loose and the floodgates opened. Columbus went on to take this game with a 7-1 victory. Veteran forward Scott Hartnell collected his ninth career hat trick, and Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner also collected a goal each. Tortorella and company are for real and after eleven straight wins the Columbus Blue Jackets are the hottest team in hockey. The Jackets finished off the week with a 2-1 victory over Montreal to make it twelve straight headed into the Christmas break, giving fans hope for the Cinderella story to continue.
Western Conference Highlights
The Wild Wild’s West
If the last couple weeks of hockey have brought us one thing it’s streak after streak after streak. The Wild decided to do their best imitation of the Flyers (ten games) and the Blue Jackets (twelve games) by doing some streaking of their own.
Minnesota had a date in Manhattan with the Rangers on Friday night and clobbered them 7-4 in a fireworks show that wasn’t pretty for either goaltender, but what the game did prove was Bruce Boudreau’s effect on his team. Big Bruce has made explosive offense his signature since he was put in charge of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington. It seems pretty easy to preach high-octane offense with that type of group in front of you, but there were rightfully some lingering questions about how Boudreau’s style would apply to a Minnesota group that certainly has had its struggles with scoring, and even more certainly doesn’t have the star-studded cast Bruce had in Washington or Anaheim.
Regardless, the Wild are certainly finding a way to win right now as their firefight in New York brought them their tenth straight victory heading into the break. Devan Dubnyk has been sensational all season, boasting a .948 save percentage and a 1.57 GAA through 26 starts. Confidence in a goaltender is the first step in getting offenses moving, and there is surely no shortage of confidence in Minnesota’s locker room right now.
I’m not a huge believer in the Wild making serious noise in the playoffs, as we’ve seen them be streaky in years past only to fall early. But it’s possible that both Boudreau and the Wild are tired of exiting prematurely and are the right combination to finally find success.
Strap in, Vancouver fans; this will only hurt a little. The Vancouver Canucks are a tire fire. Or a dumpster full of tires that are on fire. Whatever it is, it’s not great.
The Sedin twins, at age 36, aren’t getting any younger, while I do still believe they have something left in the tank it wears on players to be losing so often without much of an immediate future in front of them. General manager Jim Benning, who has made some moves that are questionable at best, has his hands full as the core players that brought the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 (although Benning was not with the Canucks organization at the time) have either aged or departed, so it’s time to blow it up and start over. The 2016 draft could have been a wonderful place to start, but the lottery was not kind to the Canucks as they finished third from the bottom and still ended up drafting fifth.
Seeing as this season is almost definitely a wash in Vancouver once again, they would be wise to think about dealing the Sedin twins, who are signed through the 2017-18 season, and get the maximum return for them. With the younger and equally capable Jacob Markstrom in the ranks, perhaps they should look to shop Ryan Miller to a team looking to relieve their starter of his workload, clearing more cap space and gaining a couple of young assets to build upon. Last, Vancouver’s ownership might want to take a page out of Toronto’s book and clean house a little bit from top to bottom. Benning has made countless head-scratching moves and I’m convinced that Willie Desjardins has only kept his job because the ship is sinking all the way to a number one draft pick right now.
This may seem harsh, but I swear I rooted for the Canucks to crush the Bruins in 2011, so I’d like to see that rabid Canadian fanbase finally capture its first Stanley Cup. Something doesn’t feel right about the fact that Texas has celebrated a Stanley Cup victory before B.C.
Vin: Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks. Homie went off this week and tallied up four goals, five assists, a +3, and four power play points. This kid is pure talent, and he’s extremely fun to watch. When playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews it’s easy to be outshined, but Artemi continues to light the lamp and hold his own.
Scott: Jaromir Jagr. who cored his 1,888th career point (in Vin’s video below), making him the NHL’s second best scorer of all time. I feel truly lucky to still be watching this goddamn legend. Huge Jagr fan forever.
V: The amazing Jaromir Jagr, who collected his 1,888th career point against the Boston Bruins while setting up Aleksander Barkov for a goal in the third period. With the assist, Jagr passed hall of famer Mark Messier for second all time in scoring.
S: Giving it to Tyler Graovac this week. With a head full of steam, he fakes a slapshot to draw Arizona defender Connor Murphy into reaching in for the poke check which Graovac then evades by pulling the puck to his backhand and sliding it underneath goaltender Mike Smith.