We at The Cannon were thrilled to talk Columbus Blue Jackets playoff hockey with NHL Network analyst and former 11-year goaltending veteran, Kevin Weekes.
Weekes started his career with the Panthers (1997-98), and also played for the Canucks (1998-00), Islanders (1999-00), Lightning (2000-01, 01-02), Hurricanes (2001-02, 02-03, 03-04), Rangers (2005-06, 06-07), and Devils (2007-08, 08-09) winning 105 games over 348 games played, posting a 2.88 GAA and .903 SV% with 19 shutouts.
He made nine more appearances, seven starts, in the postseason with the Hurricanes and Rangers posting a 3-3 record, 1.93 GAA, .927 SV%, with two shutouts.
Kevin was kind enough to spend time helping us dissect the Blue Jackets’ first-round, best-of-seven series against the Washington Capitals, set to get underway Thursday night in D.C. from Capital One Arena at 7:30 p.m.
You can catch the game on USA Network, Fox Sports Ohio, and NBC Sports Washington.
You can watch NHL Network’s Kevin Weekes on “NHL Tonight” throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kevin, as a former NHL goalie, can you talk about the Capitals goaltending situation? Braden Holtby is usually the guy in net for these moments, but he's struggled down the stretch, and with the added hot play of Philipp Grubauer over the last month, he draws the Game 1 nod.
Can you talk about that aspect of playing goal in the playoffs as opposed to the regular season? Possibly added pressure for a goalie like Grubauer who is not used to being the No. 1?
Obviously, it’s way more intense. It’s hyperintense. It’s faster, way more competitive with each and every possession. Every play, every sequence is that much more pivotal and critical. Having said that, the rink’s dimensions are 200’ x 85’, but in the playoffs, it feels like it’s 150’ x 50’. There’s no time to blink, no time to breathe. But at the same time, this is why you play. Those memories as a young kid aspiring to play, you play in big tournaments, in big spots, and you want to play in the playoffs. This is for all the marbles and the whole world’s watching.
As far as a goalie, one of the things about hockey is that there are no entitlements in the game. Only one guy can play at once. If you’re not on your A-game and the other goalie is, the coach has an opportunity to put in the other guy. I’ve been a big Holtby fan from before Washington when he was in Hershey. I love Holts the goalie and the person. He didn’t play to his super-high standard this season, it wasn’t quite there. He’s won the Vezina, he’s tied Marty Brodeur for the single-season wins record. In saying that, the NHL and sport, in general, can be very unforgiving. That’s tough when you’re on the other side of it. Cory Schneider was on the other side of it in Vancouver, with Roberto Luongo, he was the other guy. He went to New Jersey and became an established guy, made the All-Star Game...and now it’s Keith Kincaid in the net. That’s the way it works sometimes. It’s the nature of the beast. With the caliber that Holtby is, Schnieder is too, at some point that’s just the way it goes. It’s cruel. But I talked to Schneider recently, and he said, “I just have to stay ready, practice hard and be ready when it’s my time to shine.” It’s a lonely position. From six years old to the NHL, it’s a lonely position.
From the Blue Jackets perspective, they’re gunning for that elusive first-round series win. Talk about that aspect of a team playing as the underdog, maybe not facing the same kind of pressure as other teams, such as the Capitals.
The Jackets have a unique opportunity. They’ve worked hard to get here. When they play their game, which is positional, responsibly physical—not undisciplined— and strong on the stick, they’re at their best. That’s the way they need to play to go on a run. When they fall in love with finesse, that’s what gets them into trouble. Bob is a two-time Vezina winner and he has something to prove. He’s the hardest working guy in that group. Their blue line is deeper to where they can afford to scratch Jack Johnson, which is a head-scratcher because he’d be on the ice for a lot of other teams in this league. They’re led by Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, two All-Star defensemen. Jones has had an amazing year, and with Werenski’s sophomore year, they’re one of best pairings in the league. Pierre-Luc Dubois is really coming on, despite his age, and Cam Atkinson has been great. Their prospect pool is deep. They have to be thinking, “Why not rewrite history?”
The Blue Jackets brought in Artemi Panarin to be that game-breaker, specifically with the playoffs in mind. Just talk about the impact Panarin has on this team.
Panarin has been everything Jarmo thought he’d be and then some. You just don’t find a lot of guys like him. I remember talking to Stan Bowman when he came to the NHL, he said he was a right-handed Patrick Kane. Very few guys like him can drive offense like he can.
Pierre-Luc Dubois is a rookie who emerged as a top-line center for the Jackets and has flourished all season long. What kind of adjustments might he—specifically being a rookie—need to make in the playoffs?
He has done a lot of the same things he’s been doing in the back half of the season. He has to be strong on his stick and pay attention to his defensive responsibilities. He can’t cheat on those in search of offense. Playing through the middle of ice first, not drifting too much in the offensive zone, just doing the same things he did in the second half. I was impressed by him at the  draft and talking to Jarmo. I was blown away by his stature. Big hands, strapping, built a lot like Werenski. There wasn’t really that much he had to catch up to physically, with his strength and endurance. That’s always a huge help when you’re going up against men, so he’s not at a disadvantage there. The future's bright for him. I’m sure he was a little bit disappointed last year going back to junior, but maybe that helped him. They’re always encouraging him to get better and better, and sometimes that takes years. He has tons of upside.
The Capitals have been a Stanley Cup favorite for several seasons now, but, similar to the Jackets and their playoff disappointments, they don’t seem to be getting quite the same amount of attention as years past. Do you still think of them as a team deep enough to make that kind of Stanley Cup run?
Any time you have Alex Ovechkin, anything is possible. He has 90 points in 97 playoff games. So as much as people want to tarnish his rep, I’m not sure they’re looking at the nhl.com stats. Maybe they have some different ones. What I want to see: Will Kuznetsov and Backstrom be as good? Do I think they have the team? They’re not as deep as they once were. T.J. Oshie’s banged up, they don’t have Justin Williams, their defense isn’t as deep. I’m sure they miss Nate Schmidt out in Vegas. They played well against Pens this season, especially at the end, and Grubauer was exceptional. I had a chance to spend some time with them at the outdoor game at Navy. I talked to Ovi at the All-Star Game. I think for them it’s nice that they don’t have the same pressure as years past, with the President’s Trophy and the expectations. They don’t have to light up the marquee.
What are the x-factors you are specifically looking for out of each team?
For me? It’s Bobs. Bobs playing the way he can play. If the CBJ are playing their style of game. If they play that physical, gritty, honest game, that’s when they’re at their best. When they chase it, that’s when they get into shootouts on the scoreboard. As far as the Caps, the X-factor would be—I’m not worried about Ovi. Kuznetsov is number one. Number two, are the Caps willing to slug it out to win games? Will they compete for space? If the Jackets make them play that game where they can disrupt your flow and get you out of your natural cadence and tempo. For me, it’s both of those things.
*Special thanks to Ryan Real for his assistance in helping make this interview possible.*