Into the Boards: Hitting the Ice with Protest the Hero’s Cameron McLellan
What’s up, ITB readers? We’re in the final stretch of the NHL season. Every game counts a little more and the intensity has ramped up. Fantasy owners are eagle eyeing the waiver wire, looking for the last piece to their puzzle before making their playoff run. This week we got a chance to sit down with Cameron McLellan of Protest The Hero to talk about the Ottawa Senators. We also cover the Blues’ recent success and Edmonton’s slide out of the top three. Out East we talk about the resurgent Lightning and the Lundqvist-less New York Rangers. Let’s go!
Re-Charged in Tampa Bay
When it seemed like it was all but over for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the boys down south once again proved that they should never be counted out. The Lightning are 6-1-1 in the month of March and 10-2-3 in their last 15, effectively shooting them up in the standings and leaving them in a deadlocked tie with the New York Islanders for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
So why exactly have the Lighting started collecting wins in bunches? Well, for starters, their best players have been their best players. Nikita Kucherov has collected six points in his last five games to add to his team leading 69 points. Tyler Johnson has added five points in his last five games and on the back end, Victor Hedman has put up four points in his last five. When your leaders start to come up big down the stretch, good things start to happen. It was only a matter of time for a talented Tampa Bay Lightning team that made the Conference Finals last year without their captain, Steven Stamkos, so it’s hard to even really use that as an excuse for their poor play this season.
With the return of Stamkos looming, the Islanders and Maple Leafs can surely expect the Lightning to turn the heat up even higher to challenge for that second wild card spot. Their cross-state rival Florida Panthers seem to have slipped a little bit since our last writing, but it’s impossible to count them or the Flyers out at this point. The Lightning have surprised me (Scott) in two ways this season: that they were ever as bad as they were and that they were able to claw their way back into contention. Keep an eye on Tampa to see if they can continue their roll.
Trouble on Broadway
The New York Rangers have turned in yet another solid season thus far that has perhaps been lost in the mix because of the unbelievable slew of talented teams they are surrounded by in the Metropolitan Division. The Blueshirts have a stranglehold on the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 90 points, a 13 point lead over their arch rival Islanders who occupy the second wild card spot, so the playoffs are all but a lock for the Rangers.
The fat stack of points that the Rangers banked early in the season is sure coming in handy for them down the stretch as the team announced this past Saturday that starting goaltender/savior Henrik Lundqvist would be sidelined with a lower-body injury for the next two or three weeks (most or all of the remainder of the regular season). The Rangers can rest easy that, barring a monumental collapse, nobody will knock them out of playoff contention, but the injury to their starting netminder could worry some folks about the shape he will be in upon returning. Being removed from the lineup for weeks leading into the playoffs doesn’t exactly bode well for creatures as habitual as goaltenders.
That being said, the Lundqvist injury provides an interesting and perhaps reassuring angle for the Rangers. Should they lose a few extra games and stay in the top wild card spot instead of sliding back into the Metropolitan Division bracket ahead of the Blue Jackets, they would face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs instead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While facing one of the world’s best goaltenders in Carey Price is not exactly an easy task, it may be favorable to avoid playing the defending Stanley Cup champions (just ask the 2015-16 Rangers). This all depends on how much you buy into the idea of losing games to attain certain playoff matchups, but take it for what you will. Either way, the Rangers are heading to the playoffs, but it will be interesting to see who they play and how Lundqvist bounces back.
St. Louie Turnaround
In the beginning of the season, I (Vin) was very open and adamant about the St.Louis Blues having a tremendous year and them being one of my favorite contenders for the Cup out West. The Blues were hanging out in the middle/top area of the Western Conference for most of the year… and then January happened. Goaltender Jake Allen was quoted as saying it was “the worst month of his professional career.” December and January were abysmal for Allen and company, going 4-10-0, with a 3.5 goals against average and a save percentage of .876.
However, just when we thought they were out, the Blues seemed to have turned it all around, winning five straight before finally dropping a contest to Anaheim last night. What’s special about St. Louis’s current run is that they were able to beat the first place (at the time) Minnesota Wild, the third place Anaheim Ducks, and close a super clutch win over Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings. Taking down the Kings was a huge victory because they not only beat their rivals, but also added some much needed points in their pursuit of securing the second wild card position out West. In their recent run, Jake Allen has certainly turned his game around, going 9-5-0 and bringing his save percentage back up to .941.
The rest of the Blues are finally stepping up with players like Alexander Steen, David Perron, and Patrik Berglund finally putting the puck in the net and playing with the talent they showed over the past few seasons. It’s hard to count out St. Louis when it comes to post-season puck, especially if they keep their current play up for the rest of the regular season. The closest threat to the second wild card spot is the Kings who are currently four points back. The Kings have the Sabres coming up in their schedule and should be able to win (although they did just lose to Arizona), thus closing the gap on the red hot Blues. More to come on this race for the wild card spot next week.
The Edmonton Oilers have shown moments of brilliance all throughout the 2016-17 season, but with that greatness came some lackluster play to be the the yin to their yang. Connor McDavid and the rest of the Oilers came out hot and comfortably sat on top of the Pacific Division, but since then have slid down each slot. Going 4-5-1 in their last ten, and losing their last three of their last four games to the Islanders, Penguins, and Habs before finally sacking the Stars 7-1 Tuesday night.
The Oilers now sit in the first wild card slot in the Western Conference playoff race. They’re sitting with a small cushion at 81 points, but the Blues are breathing down their necks. Edmonton should be able to heat up again and break back into the top three. I believe this is the lowest point for a team with such a future, unless they completely blow it and continue to slide backwards. This year should be the Oilers’ first postseason appearance since losing to the Hurricanes in the 2005-06 Stanley Cup Finals.
Vin: Vladdy Daddy is my top start for this week. Tarasenko went off this week with four goals, an assist, a +4 rating, PPP and a GWG against the Minnesota Wild.
Scott: The hilariously controversial (for no reason) Joshua Ho-Sang. The Islanders dazzling rookie has three goals and three assists for six points in his last five games, leading most to believe that the boy has played his final AHL game. It’s unreal that #66 dropped to the 28th pick in his draft class, but Islanders fans sure are happy that he did.
Play of the Week
Vin: We’re no strangers to the talent of T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals, so check out this goal. Oshie receives the puck off his skate, dangles a defenseman, and roofs a backhander over the glove of Kari Lehtonen.
Scott: With the Flames being as hot as they’ve been, it’s no surprise that Johnny Hockey is at the center of it all. Watch Gaudreau burn the Penguins’ Ron Hainsey here with a gorgeous inside move, freeze Marc-Andre Fleury and finish with a perfect wraparound.
ITB Guest Interview with Cam of Protest The Hero!
Into the Boards was lucky enough to speak with Cameron McLellan, bassist of Canada’s own Protest The Hero. We caught up with Cam and got a chance to talk about his beloved Ottawa Senators! Check out the interview here as Cam gets checked into the boards.
ITB: First off, thank you, Cam, for taking the time to talk some puck with us. I noticed on your Instagram you posted a picture of your in-ears with the Ottawa Senators logo on them. How long have you been a fan and have they always been your favorite team?
Cam: No sweat! Yeah, I’m from Ottawa originally, so I’ve always been a fan, moreso in the more recent years due to getting on board with fantasy hockey and really getting into the gritty details of the NHL. They haven’t always been the best and they may not have made it past the ECF since ’06, but I’d rather stick with my team through and through rather than hop on any bandwagons.
Since being founded in 1992, the Senators have never won a Stanley Cup. This year they are currently sitting in second place of the Atlantic Division, only five points behind the first place Montreal Canadiens. How confident do you feel in the team making the playoffs this year? Is this the year they finally win the Cup?
They’re making moves and they’re looking promising. If they can stay consistent then I could see them making the ECF for sure. Maybe not this year in particular, but a lot of the top players on the Sens are hitting their prime, and a push for the cup would be the best call, either now or within the next few years. Karlsson, Hoffman, Turris, Stone (only 24), Brassard, all hitting that sweet spot in their later 20s. Andy’s no spring chicken at 35, but he’s still on his game.
Back in July, the Senators and the New York Rangers swapped their star forwards. Ottawa sent Mika Zibanejad and a 2018 second round pick to New York in exchange for centerman Derick Brassard and a 2018 seventh round pick. How did you feel when you first heard about this trade and are you happy with its outcome at this point in the season?
Definitely happy with that trade. It made sense for both teams. Zibby’s good but needs to be more consistent, and playing with the NYR will get him that. Like I mentioned before, the big players on the Senators are hitting their prime and getting Brassard up the middle with his experience was a key move I think.
There is plenty of talent on the Senators, so who is your favorite guy to watch when he takes the ice? Who’s your favorite non-senator to watch?
Karlsson, by default, is a blast to watch. His two-way game is phenomenal. He’s got the speed on his side and has a hell of a shot from the blue line. As of right now he’s just behind McDavid in assists in the entire league, who is also a blast to watch. You don’t see that amount of hype deliver too often (especially on the Oilers).
As we both know, the rivalries amongst teams always makes for a great hockey game. Who would say is the Senators biggest rival? Are they the team you like the least and if not, who is and why?
The Leafs, on paper, are the Sens’ rivals (battle of Ontario, etc.), but the entire team has switched out since that’s been a thing, except for Neil. It was definitely an exciting factor in the late ’90s/early ’00s, but it’s kind of artificial at this point. Both teams needed to rebuild at the same time, so that rivalry died down significantly. I do believe it’ll be a real thing in the upcoming years as both the Sens and Leafs start becoming contenders. That said, if the Leafs matchup against the Sens in the playoffs this year, there will definitely be fireworks. Buffalo used to be a fairly big rival of the Sens at that time as well, but not so much anymore. There seems to be a four-way hate between the Leafs, Sens, Bruins and Habs these days, which I’m all for. Makes for better hockey.
Let’s say you’re a professional hockey player for a moment, you have an opportunity to deliver a devastating open ice hit on someone. Who’s the player you lay out with a clean hit?
Brad Marchand or Brendan Gallagher. The two players you love to hate.