Each Friday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four in his Weekes on the Web blog. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, trends or really four of whatever in the NHL that have caught his eye.
Hi fans! The four things I'm looking at this week include two struggling teams in the tough Central Division, the defense in New Jersey and the inspirational captain in Calgary, Mark Giordano.
1. Colorado Avalanche
I believe in this group and love what they did last year and what they're capable of, and I believe in coach Patrick Roy and his staff. They have so much character in the room. A lot of the young guys are good people, but I think one of the things you have to know is that you have to make adjustments constantly in order to consistently win in this League, especially when you're still trying to develop a team identity. I know last year they played to a certain identity, but it's almost as if the League has figured you out and now you have to make adjustments.
The young players on the team have been supported with the additions of first-rate people like Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Daniel Briere. So now those young guys have to make the decision to play smarter with the puck. They have to start defending. When I talk to people in the League, I always hear how guys want to play for coaches who allow them to make a play, and I don't blame them because you want to be able to make a play if you're in the NHL. Patrick Roy has been great with those guys since Day One. But at some point if you keep putting your hand in the lion's mouth, he's going to bite you.
As nice and as flexible as Patrick has been, players need to respect the fact that he's Patrick Roy. Second, that he knows a thing or two about winning. And third, that as a group they're going to have to make some adjustments in how they play, even if it's temporary to get back on track. It's one thing if you're running up the scoreboard, scoring four or five goals a night, but you're not. They are not scoring and losing fast defensively, so it just makes it worse.
The Avalanche are an intelligent group. They think and read the game well. So it's not a question of aptitude, but it's a question of commitment. It's not can they figure it out or not, or can they read the game defensively or offensively, because they can. The NHL doesn't make exceptions for anybody, no matter who you are, and I've got a lot of confidence in that group in Colorado, but those guys have to get it going. We're at the 15-game mark now. If the Avalanche want to make some strides they're going to have to make adjustments. The bottom line is it's not working the way they're doing it now. It's time to press the reset button. It's frustrating to watch because they're way better than they're showing right now.
2. Dallas Stars
We know that Dallas plays fast and up-tempo and has one of the best duos in the League right now in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. They are both studs. They literally jump off the ice when you're watching them. They make offense happen in so many different ways, and not just from a pure skill and ability standpoint but want factor with the way they play offense. There's a willingness to challenge defensemen, willingness to punt pucks down on the forecheck and make plays on the rush. They create offense in so many different ways by manipulating defenders or making opposing players uncomfortable.
Defenseman Trevor Daley has become an excellent player. He's playing more like the player the Stars envisioned when they drafted him in the second round (No. 43) of the 2002 NHL Draft. I think Lindy Ruff and his staff have really empowered him to use his skating ability to make plays. He had a really good year last year and is doing it again this year. I think because the team plays that way a lot of pressure is put on goalie Kari Lehtonen. Kari is good enough to steal games on his own but that's a little bit of a tough recipe on a nightly basis, especially in the Western Conference. Teams can pepper you for six or seven goals. Though the Stars are fun to watch, I really think there are some stretches in games where they need to consider the possibility of just slowing it down or defending better in certain situations. It's hard because they have a young defense and some of those players, like Brenden Dillon and Jamie Oleksiak, need time to learn at this level.
3. Mark Giordano
What a great story the captain of the Calgary Flames has become. For any of the readers out there that don't know, or young players out there reading this article, Mark Giordano is an unbelievable inspiration. He's 100-percent class, handles himself the right way on and off the ice, and pays full attention to detail. Keep in mind this is a player who was undrafted out of Owen Sound in the Ontario Hockey League. He had to go to the KHL before Calgary noticed that he could play. He played well enough that the Flames traded Dion Phaneuf to open ice time for him, and he provides enough leadership to where they felt comfortable in the departure of Iginla to name Giordano the captain.
Defense - CGY
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 19
SOG: 39 | +/-: 6
Those are giant shoes to fill. He's done it without missing a beat and all the while has led the League in scoring among defensemen; he's an all-situations player. To me this is just an example of how persevering and the attention to detail ultimately can help you accomplish your goals. He's very similar to Zach Parise in that regard. People love him, like him, respect him and he's a leader in every sense. And it's not forced but natural. So when you see how well he's playing and when you see what he's been able to do, it's beyond impressive. He's one of, if not the, most improved player in the League.
4. New Jersey Devils
The challenge with the Devils has been consistency. A lot of the players on the Devils are underperforming and I feel there are a lot of better players than we've seen so far. Mike Cammalleri has proven to be vital to that offense. I know how great a player Travis Zajac can be; he can be a difference maker on a nightly basis. Patrik Elias is a future member of the Hockey Hall of Fame but for whatever reason hasn't gotten his offensive game on track yet. Jaromir Jagr is top five ever to play the game and he's leading the Devils in scoring. But if you look at their point distribution it's not where it needs to be.
I've been impressed with their young defenseman Damon Severson. I think Eric Gelinas has a future but he just has to decide and commit to what type of player he wants to be. I've always liked Adam Larsson. One veteran player on the Devils raved about Severson and what he can become. It's one thing as a young defenseman to play third pair; it's another thing to come in and play second pair; but to come in and play top pair is pretty unheard of as a rookie. I know Jonas Brodin did it with the Minnesota Wild a few years ago but he did it with Ryan Suter. Look at the four goals Severson has this season and compare that to some of the forwards the Devils have there that are skilled. It's just mind boggling to me.
And in goal Cory Schneider has played well. When was the last time he played this much? It was probably six years ago with the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League, when he played 60 games. It's going to take time for him to become acclimated to playing this many games in the NHL and playing them as a No. 1. Schneider was awesome in his role when he first came into the League, but it's one thing to do that in a three-game stretch and another to do it every night.
People don't understand. I know what it means to play 50 to 60 games in this League and it's not easy, physically or mentally. Cory is going through the progression of learning that so it's only fair that people keep that in perspective. And let's not forget he's coming in and doing it after the all-time winningest goaltender in the history of the world. I give Schneider a lot of credit with the way he's handled himself. He's bright, respectful, smart and accountable. It's just a matter of him continuing to go through the progression of doing it at the NHL level on a regular basis.