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WEEKES ON THE WEB
Posted On Friday, 02.07.2014 / 2:26 AM

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

Avalanche poised to make run with Varlamov in net

Semyon Varlamov
Goalie - COL
RECORD: 28-11-5
GAA: 2.48 | SVP: 0.924
So many goaltenders have posted incredible numbers this season. Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche is certainly one of them, having already topped his previous season high of 26 wins, which he set two years ago.

The Russian's great play in the crease hasn't gone unnoticed, as he was rewarded last week with a five-year contract extension reportedly worth $29.5 million. With Varlamov now established as the clear No. 1 in net, Colorado has solidified a core that we could be hearing about for some time.

I spoke to Varly's agent, Paul Theofanous, and he gave me a real good breakdown of what went into signing that extension. First of all, it's the right fit. The Avalanche have been great with him, and they love what they're building there and the direction the team is heading. He's only 25 but has played almost 200 games, which is quite a bit for a young goalie in the NHL.

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Posted On Wednesday, 02.05.2014 / 9:46 AM

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

Penguins-Sabres matchup offers several subplots

This week's Wednesday Night Rivalry features two teams in very different places as the Pittsburgh Penguins, who sit atop the Eastern Conference standings, visit the last-place Buffalo Sabres (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2, RDS2). But there are plenty of compelling subplots to this game that we could still be discussing as the season plays out.

Starting with Pittsburgh, I'm definitely impressed by defenseman Matt Niskanen. He is having a hell of a year. He is a guy who is definitely playing above expectations and he's a pending unrestricted free agent, so he's going to get a lot of money either from Pittsburgh or someone else. Another young defenseman, Olli Maatta, has also been very impressive, especially for a 19-year-old. Both of these players found their game as the Penguins dealt with some major injuries on the back end.

Kris Letang has been injured and hasn't played at the same level, Paul Martin has been banged-up. Add that to injuries to Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik and there has been a great opportunity for Niskanen and Maatta to come in and play at the level they have.

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Posted On Friday, 01.31.2014 / 4:20 AM

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

Plenty to see before the Olympic break

Having just attended the two games at Yankee Stadium involving the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, I have to say it was all amazing. There were more than 100,000 hockey fans in two nights at Yankee Stadium. That's tough to beat. It was a great spectacle, it was a great show and I think all three teams played hard. It also provided a glimpse of what certain teams will need in order to make a playoff push before the Olympic break.

Coming out of the Rangers' 2-1 win against the Islanders on Wednesday, I was particularly impressed by the play of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. If Nabokov can continue to play that way for the Islanders down the stretch and they can stay healthy, it would be huge. He can help provide confidence as well as a veteran presence. That would be big for them to make a push toward the playoffs.

If the Islanders hope to make up some ground during the sprint toward the Olympic break, they'll need that veteran contribution from Nabokov. We're seeing a similar contribution from Nathan Horton with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have been great since their big offseason acquisition joined the lineup after undergoing shoulder surgery during the summer.

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.28.2014 / 10:00 PM

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

Rangers, Islanders close Yankee Stadium games

The New York Rangers' 7-3 victory against the New Jersey Devils at Yankee Stadium on Sunday was an entertaining game against a truly magnificent background. Fortunately it was the first of two games that will take place at the iconic stadium as part of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.

The two-game series at Yankee Stadium wraps with a Wednesday Night Rivalry matchup between the Rangers and New York Islanders, their second of three games in a 10-day span. It's a huge game for both teams that will close a historic time for New York sports.

From a Rangers standpoint I love the fact that they stuck to their game plan against the Devils. They didn't start well but coach Alain Vigneault was telling them that he wanted to see them play in numbers, especially defensively. They didn't do that at the start of the game but they made adjustments, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made his adjustments and they came out flying in the second period.

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Posted On Friday, 01.24.2014 / 3:01 AM

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

Stadium Series will be a showcase for hockey

In a season that has already had so many highlights, it's incredible that we're about to witness three more historic events. After months of anticipation, the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series kicks off on Saturday as the Anaheim Ducks face off against the Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium. The Stadium Series then heads East as the New York Rangers meet the New Jersey Devils at Yankee Stadium on Sunday before going against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

It's going to be an epic showcase for the sport.

Let's start with New York. I don't know how you can be in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut and not be at those games. As a hockey fan, it's going to be the place to be.


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Posted On Wednesday, 01.22.2014 / 3:00 AM

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

Blackhawks, Red Wings face off in matchup of rivals

This week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game features one of the NHL's greatest rivalries as the Chicago Blackhawks visit Joe Louis Arena to take on the Detroit Red Wings (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2).

When it comes to Blackhawks vs. Red Wings, there are so many elements to the rivalry between the Original Six teams.

To start with, it's a great playoff rematch. They had a great series last season, when both were still playing in the Western Conference.

It's pretty fascinating when you take a closer look at how the Red Wings and Blackhawks are connected.


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Posted On Friday, 01.17.2014 / 3:00 AM

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

Rangers, Islanders lead resurgence in Metropolitan

After every Metropolitan Division team except for the Pittsburgh Penguins got off to a tough start, we're seeing a major shift lately. A number of teams in that division have shown some real signs of life, and it could be the New York Rangers who are making the biggest push as we head into the Olympic break.

The Rangers have been a lot better. To me, it all starts with Henrik Lundqvist. Cam Talbot has been amazing and Hank in his last few games has been outstanding. There are parts of his game that he has really built on and he's starting to gain some momentum. If he's able to play like that, it covers some of the mistakes that we've seen from the Rangers.

Staying in the New York area, let's give the New York Islanders some love. How about John Tavares? You want to talk about a guy who has worked and willed himself to become a better player. He's that guy. To me, he's playing on an MVP-type level. Also, Kyle Okposo's game has come a very long way. He's become a top-tier power forward this season. He's put in a lot of work in the offseason and now he's got more of a blend between being a skill player and still being a big-body power forward. Add Thomas Vanek to that line, and you have a trio that people aren't talking about enough.
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.15.2014 / 3:00 AM

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

Capitals vs. Penguins comes down to goalies

This week's Wednesday Night Rivalry features a great Metropolitan Division matchup with the Washington Capitals visiting the Pittsburgh Penguins (8 p.m. EST, NBCSN, RDS, TSN2).

These teams feature some of the world's best skaters, but goaltending will be the key for both. Washington's Philipp Grubauer has come in and played exceptionally well. He's forced coach Adam Oates' hand to keep playing him. Both Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby earned their right to be in the NHL, no question about it. They were both excellent down in Hershey of the American Hockey League when they were there, and Holtby has had huge playoff runs for a young goalie.

But all three Capitals goaltenders are young, and part of being a young goalie is finding that consistency in the League. I know firsthand it's difficult to achieve. Grubauer has come in and outplayed Neuvirth and Holtby, and for now he is the guy.

The Capitals need great goaltending, as does any team. Because Washington really excels on the power play and is so skilled, their 5-on-5 play is even more critical, and their goalie needs to make the saves that allow them to play to their skill set.


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Posted On Friday, 01.10.2014 / 3:00 AM

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

Russia, Finland could be teams to watch in Sochi

Now that all the Olympic team rosters have been unveiled and the 2014 Sochi Olympics are just a few weeks away, everyone has offered their opinion regarding every player included and excluded from the tournament. Naturally, the United States and Canada rosters have received plenty of attention.

With Sochi just around the corner, there are a few things I thought were worth mentioning.

The biggest key to recognize is that this is going to be a very different tournament. In the past, host cities like Salt Lake City or Torino have been picturesque, but hockey hasn't been the main focus. That won't be the case in Sochi. This is Russia. This is the motherland. They're hosting this on their home soil and Russia has a rich hockey culture. I think that is something nobody is talking about enough.

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Posted On Friday, 01.03.2014 / 9:19 PM

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

Winter Classic wraps; Blackhawks still team to beat

There's so much to talk about as we start 2014, but with the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic still so fresh in all our minds, let's start there.

The venue itself was beyond spectacular. Everything that the NHL has done with this game so far has been awesome. But Michigan Stadium was at a whole other level. Just to think there was an NHL game played at the Big House with 105,491 fans, it's beyond incredible. It was a sight to behold, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don't think anyone who grew up playing the game at any level would have ever imagined they would play an NHL hockey game at the Big House. It was a historic event. The whole world's eyes were on the Winter Classic and that's pretty special.

For the fans who had never seen an outdoor game, they were all blown away. Every fan I talked to was going nuts. They deserve a lot of credit.

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I just wanted to do something to take my mind off the shot and let me relax a little bit. It seemed like the fans liked it. I'm glad I was able to score.

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