Into the Boards: The Isles Fire Capuano, The Flames and Oilers are Hot


Hello, readers! Our apologies for missing last week; everything was a little hectic on our end with a large fuzzy orange taking the reigns in our country and The NAMM Show featuring a ton of new gear. However, there’s plenty of fun stuff to go over this week on Into the Boards; in the Eastern Conference the Islanders have canned Jack Capuano and Buffalo is looking to the future. Out West, the Oilers have continued to impress (because Connor McDavid is absolutely unreal), and the Calgary Flames are hanging in there somehow. No BS this week, let’s get right to it.

Eastern Conference

Hit the Road, Jack

We all knew it was coming; sooner or later it had to. I’m surprised the organization took this long, but as of last Tuesday, the New York Islanders have parted ways with Jack Capuano. GM Garth Snow made the announcement coming off a 4-0 win in Boston, which seems to suggest that this decision was already set in stone, as is generally the case when a coach is fired after a win. For now, assistant coach/assistant GM Doug Weight will take over as interim head coach. Capuano was solid in his efforts, guiding the team to the playoffs three out of the last four years, but he was never a fan favorite. Cappy was often criticized for his lineup decisions, often favoring veterans over promising youth, a testament to his old-time hockey approach. This year the Islanders have been quite awful, and firing Jack to open the door for a new philosophy was step one in a long list of things they must do to get back on track. Weight told the press that he is confident and he’s looking to put the team in a position where the games are meaningful. It has been reported that the Islanders have been granted permission from the Florida Panthers to speak with Gerard Gallant (who served as an assistant coach with the Isles from 2007-2009), and all eyes are on Boston to see if Claude Julien gets the boot as well.

The Islanders are currently in the eighth seat of the entire Eastern Conference and are five points out of a wild card playoff spot. Considering there is still an entire half of the season remaining, anything can happen, but as a fan of the team, I think the release of Capuano is just the tip of the iceberg as far as improving the team. The replacements for Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo (Andrew Ladd & Jason Chimera) are not meeting expectations and have been underperforming all year. However, the release of Capuano shows that the new Islanders ownership in Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin is not content with losing and waiting for the ship to right itself. I’ll still stand by my team though. The post-Capuano era is still fresh, but we’re off to a good start going 3-0-1 under Doug Weight with wins against the Kings, Stars, and Blue Jackets and a tough OTL to Philly.

Silent Buffalo

In a recent conversation with a friend (shout out to Pete Judge, an ITB interviewee), we discussed the Buffalo Sabres and he mentioned that they “are a goalie and a top D man away from being a good team.” Admittedly, in recent years the Sabres have been completely overshadowed by the Rangers and Islanders in the battle for New York’s attention. With some research and some time to look over the roster, I noticed the Sabres have been quietly building their team by acquiring some solid players in recent years like Kyle Okposo, Ryan O’Reilly, Cody Franson, and Evander Kane. Buffalo also has some young talent that’s still developing, and they’re building the team’s chemistry amongst themselves in players like Rasmus Ristolainen, 2014 second overall pick Sam Reinhart, Marcus Foligno and Zemgus Girgensons. It seems as though the big issue in Buffalo is definitely their men between the pipes. Starting netminder Robin Lehner has only 12 wins on the year with a GAA of 2.57, and backup Anders Nilsson is just as mediocre with 8 wins in 16 games started and also sports a GAA of 2.52. The Sabres are definitely in need of some big pieces to to complete the puzzle, but they are well on their way. I can confidently bet you the balance in my bank account (I’m broke as shit by the way) that the Sabres will not be making the postseason, but they have hope for future seasons. With some tweaking and the right acquisitions, this team can go a long way and should have a bright future ahead of them.

Western Conference

Fun Times in Oil Country

50 games into the season and the Edmonton Oilers are staying strong, effectively proving that they are for real. Multiple times this season, I (Scott) have found myself saying “I can’t believe I’m rushing home after work to catch an Edmonton Oilers game” because of the reputation they’ve earned over the last decade. Make no mistake, though, this Edmonton team is full of real talent and they aren’t winning games by accident. Let’s dive into why they’re winning and what’s still missing.

The Oilers are a young team full of skilled offensive players who drive possession. Today’s NHL, whether old guys want to admit it or not, is not centered around grit, checking, or fighting (although I do believe those things all still have a place in the game). Given the speed increase in the league, Edmonton is built for modern day success. Connor McDavid is one of the most skilled players I’ve ever seen; I’ve never watched somebody just blow by defenders on the outside like he does while having full control of the puck. The Oilers have a solid amount of players who are at or above .50 Cosi For % at even strength, which simply means that the team was in possession of the puck more often than not with that certain player on the ice. Having the puck more means a greater chance to score and a lesser chance of the puck ending up in the back of your net, and the Oilers are getting the puck and not giving it back. Todd McLellan’s influence on his young squad should not be overlooked either, and the boys are getting very solid goaltending from Cam Talbot. Oh, and having the league’s leading scorer on your team sure doesn’t hurt.

Edmonton is far from a perfect team as they boast a decent but not excellent +17 goal differential. They currently sit in third place in the Pacific just one point back of Anaheim, but with one game in hand. Their defense leaves a whole lot to be desired, so I’m not entirely convinced that the kids are poised for a deep playoff run just yet, but they sure will be fun to watch and see if they can win a round. Like Buffalo, the Oilers need a top D man, which could be the last missing piece to the puzzle. It’s fun to watch hockey in Edmonton again.

The Flames Are Wild

Those pesky Calgary Flames just will not go away! They currently sit one point out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and are continuing to hang around, due in part to the weakness of the Pacific Division. The Flames have capitalized on the struggles of the Nashville Predators (from the Central) and the Los Angeles Kings to stay competitive in the wild card race, but the once-struggling Vancouver Canucks sure are making it interesting.

The Flames have managed to stay in it and are doing so by spreading out the scoring. While Johnny Gaudreau is certainly the number one guy in Calgary, his ten games of missed time forced a few other names to step up. Mikael Backlund and the 19-year old Matthew Tkachuk are numbers one and two in scoring on the team with 33 and 31 points respectively. Gaudreau sits below them with 29 points but has done so in just 41 games. The Flames have eight players that have scored 20 or more points so far this season, further exemplifying their spread out success. Given that Johnny Hockey is the only bonafide star on the team, the secondary scoring will have to continue if the Flames want a chance to hang around through the second half of the season.

My fear with the Calgary Flames is that the holes in their goaltending and defense will catch up to them. While Chad Johnson is riding some decent numbers, Brian Elliott will need to improve his ugly .891 save percentage and 2.92 goals against average because Johnson likely doesn’t have the gas in the tank to shoulder the burden of a starting goaltender’s workload. The Flames currently sit 24th in the league in goals against, and being on the wrong half of that list is not somewhere you want to be. The year started with talks of trading Dougie Hamilton after a rough start, but his turnaround is hopefully a sign of better things to come for the Flames’ back end. I’m curious to see if these guys can stick around ‘til the end, but I think that will be decided more by how Dallas, LA, Vancouver, and Nashville perform down the stretch for the two wild card spots.

Players of the Week

Vin: The great John Tavares! J.T has been going off since the departure of former coach Capuano, and is putting the team on his back. In the last week Tavares has been lighting up the scorecard in ever category, collecting 20 shots on goal, three goals, one assist, two powerplay points, a short handed point and a game winning goal against the tough Dallas Stars.

Scott: Maybe not the best POTW, but I gotta give it to the veteran Patrick Marleau for his four goal performance on Monday night against the Avalanche. Not often do you see such an explosion by one player, and the 37-year old proved he still has something left in the tank.

Top Plays

Vin: My top play of the weak goes to this beauty of a goal by Andreas Athanasiou. Watch this Datsyuk-like goal as the young winger takes the puck coast to coast, dangles and undresses the Pittsburgh defenseman before ripping a top shelfer over the glove of netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.

Scott: Elite talents do elite things, and John Tavares is no stranger to that. Watch #91 absolutely undress John Klingberg here with a windmill move then chip it over the glove of Lehtonen all in one motion. Sensational.

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