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Weekes on the Web

Friday Four: Coyotes clawing way up standings

NHL Network analyst Weekes also discusses Stars goalie Bishop, Penguins-Capitals, Sharks

by Kevin Weekes @KevinWeekes / NHL Network Analyst

Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will bring you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.

 

Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes are on fire. What a team. They've gone 10-2-0 in their past 12 games to move into the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. What's more impressive is that they don't have a 20-goal scorer (Brad Richardson leads them with 16), but 11 players have scored at least 10 goals. Younger players like Clayton Keller and Lawson Crouse are stepping up and everyone is playing team-first hockey.

It's even more impressive because they've been ravaged by injuries -- goalie Antti Raanta and forwards Derek Stepan and Nick Schmaltz are out now -- but that hasn't stopped them. Darcy Kuemper stepped in for Raanta and has been rejuvenated in Arizona; he told me that goaltending coach Corey Schwab has helped him elevate his game. Kuemper has been able to be in the best position with his feet set to make saves, and it's been working.

In a 6-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, Arizona scored it 15th shorthanded goal of the season. The Coyotes also are second in the NHL on the penalty kill at 85.1 percent.

 

Ben Bishop

Bishop is on a great run with the Dallas Stars; he has a shutout streak of 230:53, which includes three straight shutouts. He did sustain a lower-body injury in a 4-1 win at the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but I talked to some people with the Stars and they said it's mild and he should be OK. However the Stars called up goalie Landon Bow from Texas of the American Hockey League for their game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN360, SNE, SNO, FS-SW, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV).

The injury couldn't have come at a worse time for the Stars, who have won six of their past seven games (6-1-0) and moved into third place in the Central Division. Forwards Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov have been leading the charge offensively, and two rookies, forward Roope Hintz and defenseman Miro Heiskanen, have played well. The biggest thing for them is the turnaround on defense; they rank second in the NHL in goals-against per game (2.47), behind the New York Islanders (2.34).

Video: DAL@MIN: Bishop leaves game with injury

 

Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins

Each of these teams has turned it up, led by their superstar forwards. For the Penguins, Evgeni Malkin got his 1,000th NHL point on Tuesday, one week after Sidney Crosby got his 1,200th. Crosby said the Penguins need to have a playoff mentality in every game from here on out and improve the power play, and they've done both of those things. Backup goalie Casey DeSmith had a shutout in a 5-0 win at the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, giving Matt Murray, who has rediscovered his form, a rest.

Washington's Alex Ovechkin got his 1,200th NHL point on Tuesday and is four goals from 50 this season. That would give him eight seasons with at least 50 goals, which is just remarkable. Washington is 8-1-0 in its past nine and looks like the team that went on a run to the Cup last season. It's not out of the realm of possibilities that the Penguins and Capitals could meet in the Eastern Conference First Round this year, and wouldn't that be something?

 

San Jose Sharks

This team is better than the one that lost to the Penguins in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. They are much deeper at every position. Brent Burns is having a Norris Trophy-type season, and although Erik Karlsson is hurt, we know how good he is when healthy. Goalie Martin Jones is back on track. Obviously he has the wins, but he's put up better numbers recently, allowing two goals or fewer in four straight starts prior to a 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

Their bottom-six forwards have been excellent, and the Sharks are the only team in the NHL with five players with at least 24 goals: Joe Pavelski (37), Tomas Hertl (31), Evander Kane (27), Timo Meier (26) and Logan Couture (24). Coach Peter DeBoer and general manager Doug Wilson have done an excellent job building and coaching a team that can compete with anyone in the League.

Lastly, I want to send my condolences to Kane and his wife on the passing of their infant daughter and let him know that he has support from the NHL community during this tough time.

Video: SJS@WPG: Pavelski nets go-ahead goal in final seconds

 

Honorable mention

I think forward Nikita Kucherov clinched the Hart Trophy as League MVP with his performance on Thursday. He had two goals and two assists for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 5-4 win against the Detroit Red Wings and leads the NHL with 115 points (35 goals, 80 assists).

It seems that the Minnesota Wild are going in reverse; they are 1-3-2 after a five-game winning streak. It would be a shame if they don't make the playoffs, but they are playing like they don't want to right now. The Coyotes have overtaken them and moved into the second wild card from the West.

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