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Posted On Friday, 12.27.2013 / 9:34 AM

By Kevin Weekes -  NHL Network Analyst / - Weekes on the Web

Weekes: NHL has provided some great gifts

It's the holiday season and plenty of people are turning their attention to the great gifts they received this year. With a holiday theme, I have to talk about some of the best gifts NHL fans have seen so far this season.

The best gift the League has received is that all three California-based teams are playing great. It's had a great impact on the state from a business level but also at the grass-roots level. There are a lot of great, young minor-league players now playing in California. That talent in California has been spurred by the great performance from all three California NHL teams.

The Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks have been so great this season that it's almost impossible to look at a major League statistic and not find a California-based player. At the Christmas break five of the top six players in plus/minus were Ducks: Hampus Lindholm, Francois Beauchemin, Dustin Penner, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The only non-Duck in that group is another California-based player: Anze Kopitar of the Kings, who is tied with the Ducks' Dustin Penner for third at plus-20. Just about any category you look at right now there is a California-based player at the top. Look at 34-year-old Jumbo Joe Thornton, who leads the League with 35 assists at Christmas.

It's great for the League. And it's not only flourishing on one level in California; it's flourishing on every level. We're starting to see NHL draft picks who are California-born players. That state has 30 million people; Canada has 35 million. It just shows how great this can be for the game as a whole.

Posted On Thursday, 12.19.2013 / 6:47 PM

By Kevin Weekes -  NHL Network Analyst / - Weekes on the Web

Year of the 'Backup' goalie

I couldn't help but notice something interesting when the NHL released its three stars of the week on Monday. Sure, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals was named the first star. That wasn't a surprise. But right behind him were Martin Jones of the Los Angeles Kings and Carter Hutton of the Nashville Predators, a pair of undrafted goalies who were playing in the American Hockey League last season.

And they're not the first goalies who have surprised people this season. Consider the excellent play of guys considered "backups," such as Antti Raanta, Ben Scrivens, Jonas Gustavsson, Cam Talbot, Marek Mazanec and Frederik Andersen. Heck, Curtis McElhinney has gone 3-1-0 with a .935 save percentage for the Columbus Blue Jackets since Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky was lost with a groin strain.

They're all proving they can play in the League. It's a limited body of work, but at least from a talent and ability standpoint, they're proving themselves. It just goes to show you how unpredictable sports can be at any position, but especially in goal. There can be an injury or a trade or someone not performing up to their level. That's why I definitely think it's been the year of the "backup."

Posted On Wednesday, 12.18.2013 / 6:16 PM

By Kevin Weekes -  NHL Network Analyst / - Weekes on the Web

Rangers can take advantage of injury-plagued Penguins

It was six Wednesdays ago that the New York Rangers last hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden. At the time, the Penguins were flying and slowly starting to get healthy as the Rangers were working to overcome a 2-6-0 start.

The Penguins got off to a strong start that night, but the Rangers came away with a big 5-1 win over their Metropolitan Division rival.

They're back at it tonight, but much has changed with the Penguins.

First and foremost, the Penguins are obviously without a lot of key personnel. Evgeni Malkin is out with an injury, as are each of Pittsburgh's top four defensemen. They're going to have to really buckle down to overcome these losses. I think the onus is going to be on their forwards to continue to come deep in their defensive zone and help out the defense because the blue line is decimated right now. Also, because they don't have Malkin down the middle either, the forwards will also have to make themselves outlets for the defensemen to transition the puck and get going north.

Posted On Friday, 12.13.2013 / 3:00 AM

By Kevin Weekes -  NHL Network Analyst / - Weekes on the Web

Rangers, Ducks: Teams going in different directions

Heading into this season, it's fair to say both the New York Rangers and Anaheim Ducks had pretty high expectations. But these two teams have gone in opposite directions as they've opened the final month of 2013. And the reason behind the Rangers' struggles and Ducks' success can be pinpointed to a few basic principles.

Right now it's a very critical time for the Rangers. It's New York. It's an Original Six team. It's the biggest market in the NHL. The Rangers have got to get in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and their current franchise-record nine-game homestand is the perfect place to start that run.

Unfortunately, they started the homestand with an 0-3-1 record, including a 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

They're playing an inconsistent brand of hockey right now. The saving grace for them is they know they can play better, and they're in the Eastern Conference and not the West. My challenge with the Rangers right now, based on their makeup, is I don’t know if they have enough skill to be a purely skilled team and I don't think they're gritty enough throughout their lineup to be able to play a power game. They're caught in between. They're capable of doing both of those things well. But what are they committed to?

Posted On Wednesday, 12.11.2013 / 12:12 PM

By Kevin Weekes -  NHL Network Analyst / - Weekes on the Web

Blackhawks starting to rally around Raanta

This week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game features the Philadelphia Flyers visiting the Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) in a rematch of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. It may not have been that long since Patrick Kane scored his historic Cup-winning overtime goal in Game 6, but both of these teams have changed since then.

Starting with Chicago, the challenge will be how long can they go without goaltender Corey Crawford? So far Antti Raanta has played well. The two Stanley Cup-winning goalies on their team, Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin, are injured, which puts the spotlight on Raanta, the latest player in the pipeline of Finnish goalies. So far he has come in and looked comfortable and played well. He's going to have to continue to play the way he is playing to allow the Blackhawks to play the way they play. The Blackhawks have been able to make plays and not change their style of game because they're worried about getting a save.

Posted On Friday, 12.06.2013 / 3:00 AM

By Kevin Weekes -  NHL Network Analyst / - Weekes on the Web

Stars showing signs of growth in tough division

As those who read this blog know, I enjoy shifting the spotlight onto players or teams that might not be getting the credit or attention that they deserve. This week, I'm able to do both.

Having said that, let's talk about the Dallas Stars and Ryan Garbutt, a guy who is doing a heck of a job this season.

The Stars may be stuck in the incredibly competitive Central Division, which boasts top teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. But Dallas has managed to hold its own and even beat the defending champion Blackhawks on Tuesday night in Chicago. That is impressive, especially when you look at how young Dallas' roster is. But all of Dallas' young players are coming along. From Antoine Roussel, who scored the winner in Chicago on a penalty shot, to Alex Chiasson to Cody Eakin.

Posted On Wednesday, 12.04.2013 / 3:00 AM

By Kevin Weekes -  NHL Network Analyst / - Weekes on the Web

Red Wings, Flyers enter rivalry game as better teams

Of all the great Wednesday Night Rivalry matchups we've had so far this season, this week could be one of the most intriguing as the Philadelphia Flyers visit Joe Louis Arena to take on the Detroit Red Wings (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

It's been a tale of two seasons for both of these teams. Detroit had trouble finding consistency in the early going but has looked very impressive in winning four straight, including resounding wins against the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders, both without Pavel Datsyuk, who has been out with a concussion and is questionable for Wednesday.

Detroit's 4-2 win against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday was impressive for many reasons. It starts with Darren Helm being back after dealing with a back injury that limited him to one game last season. I know coach Mike Babcock is really bullish on Helm. He seems to make a big difference with their team and has seven goals in 14 games this season. He is very fast and adds a lot of speed to that lineup. By the time you complement that with rookies Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, you're getting young legs that can help an older, experienced Detroit team play a more up-tempo game. They were pushing the pace against Ottawa. They actually out-skated Ottawa in that game, which you wouldn't expect coming into the matchup just based on both teams' personnel.

Posted On Friday, 11.29.2013 / 3:00 AM

By Kevin Weekes -  NHL Network Analyst / - Weekes on the Web

Young talent playing way into Olympic consideration

As you've probably noticed, has spent the week projecting the rosters for the top teams at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The invitations sent out over the summer give some idea as to who will be on these impressive teams. But some players overlooked during the summer have been playing their way into consideration for Sochi.

I think Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins has definitely played himself into the conversation for the United States. Look at what he has done on a back end that features Dennis Seidenberg, Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid. You can argue that Boston has the best blue line right now in the Eastern Conference. And Krug has stepped in and hasn't missed a beat from the way he was playing at Michigan State and at Providence in the American Hockey League. More importantly, he hasn't missed a beat from how he played in the postseason with Boston last season, when he scored four goals in his first run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With a Czech Republic team that will be relying heavily on veterans, Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks deserves a shot. For him to be as young as he is, doing what he is doing on a top line with a future Hall of Famer in Joe Thornton and an X-factor in Brent Burns, it's beyond phenomenal. We've all seen what he can do and the Czechs could definitely use his blend of size and skill.

Posted On Wednesday, 11.27.2013 / 3:00 AM

By Kevin Weekes -  NHL Network Analyst / - Weekes on the Web

Weekes: Red Wings have big test against Bruins

Once again, we have another great midweek matchup as the Boston Bruins visit Joe Louis Arena to take on the Detroit Red Wings in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). This game features two Original Six teams that have been among the class of the League for some time now.

The rivalry has an added element this season, with the Bruins and Red Wings competing in the Atlantic Division. Detroit has struggled a little since joining the Eastern Conference this season. But any conversation regarding the East has to begin with the Bruins.

I think Boston is the class of the Eastern Conference. One could argue goaltender Tuukka Rask is the most consistent goalie in the League right now. The Bruins have a great defensive corps with a top offensive line that propels them, as well as a third line consisting of Reilly Smith, Carl Soderberg and Chris Kelly that has been excellent. They're very well-coached and play with a lot of structure. That means they are very strong on the puck and on the boards and very solid with puck possession and one-on-one battles. The main thing with them, especially offensively, is their versatility. Offensively, they can score off the rush, they can score off the cycle and their defensemen can contribute to help create goals.

Posted On Friday, 11.22.2013 / 12:15 PM

By Kevin Weekes -  NHL Network Analyst / - Weekes on the Web

Weekes: Some great efforts being ignored

At the quarter-point of the 2013-14 season we've been focusing on all of the big, prevailing stories and trends in what has been a great season so far. But I wanted to bring attention to some of the more unheralded, under-the-radar players who have been excellent this season but haven't really earned enough attention.

It starts with two veterans defying expectations with the Calgary Flames and ends with two youngsters turning heads with the Boston Bruins.

The Flames have faded since their excellent 3-0-2 start. But one thing a lot of people aren't talking about is the play of the veterans in Calgary. I love Sean Monahan and we can talk about how he has been amazing. But I also love the way Mike Cammalleri and Jiri Hudler are playing.

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Quote of the Day

It seems like I'm kind of making it a little difficult on myself here the last two games.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after tying the record for longest point streak by an American-born player with an assist on Duncan Keith's goal with 26.6 seconds left against the Anaheim Ducks Friday
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