Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
1. Changes for the Columbus Blue Jackets
One of the main hallmarks of their team is in their name, Columbus "Blue Jackets." They are a blue-collar team and they have the ability to play the game any way you want. There are guys that are tough. There are guys that play hard, that can play power hockey, but right now I don't know which people on their team are doing that consistently. To me, the effort and intensity are nowhere were they need to be for this group. Defensively, they're not winning a lot of battles. They're giving up the middle of the ice in all three zones. Any coach I've talked to in the past few years said it was always tough to play Columbus, but I haven't seen that so far this season. And I don't really think that falls on Todd Richards (who was fired on Wednesday).
NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes looks at the Columbus Blue Jackets' coaching change and the Montreal Canadiens' hot start in his Friday Four. (Photo: Gregory Shamus/NHLI, Bill Smith/NHLI)
In comes John Tortorella. He's the winningest American-born coach of all time. But he is going to have to strike a balance between bringing all of the things he brings in terms of the intensity and the fire and passion and commitment, which is what they need right now . Clearly their group, not their staff, in terms of the players, haven't had those things. Tortorella will have to reinforce those things, which he will do.
He brings all those qualities to the table, but at the same time he said he has to listen more. I feel that he can provide the accountability, but he also has to remember it's not a veteran team and the NHL as a whole isn't a veteran League. Tortorella is going to have to find a little bit of a new balance without sacrificing what he brings to the table.
2. Montreal Canadiens continue to roll
You look at this team on paper and you know they are a good team. I just didn't expect them to be this good this year.
Of course, the Canadiens are led by their three horsemen: Carey Price, P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty. Carey is the best goalie in the world right now. I spoke to Canadiens Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden about it and he said, "Carey Price is simply magical. What he did last year, his ability, his calmness in net, his demeanor, all those things."
It all starts with Price, but it's also augmented how well Subban is playing. You look at how well he's played. Nominated for the Norris Trophy last season. He's plus-9; he was plus-21 last season. His partner Andrei Markov is plus-10. A plus-19 from your first pair through seven games is pretty hard to beat.
Even though Pacioretty suffered a knee injury during the summer, it hasn't robbed him of his speed or agility, or his shot. He can still shoot in stride off the rush, and there's been no letdown for him.
Also, let's not forget about center Tomas Plekanec. He said last week the Canadiens are more than just a Carey Price-led team; he is playing very well and has five goals this season. Brendan Gallagher leads that group up front. He is the energy guy and has so much heart.
This is a team that has been doing a lot of good things. The Canadiens are getting contributions up and down their lineup. Dale Weise, a guy who supposedly is a bottom-six forward, is a really skilled player in his role. I think he has really, really flourished in Montreal.
I'm really impressed with this team. I think it's unreal what Montreal is doing. A franchise that is almost 100 years old has its first 7-0-0 start in team history.
3. Dallas Stars shining
The Stars are off to a 6-1-0 start. They are getting solid goaltending from Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. Their goalie coach has done great work with them. I don't think the struggles last season were all on Lehtonen. He's a good goalie.
Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are monsters, but I think something that doesn't get talked about enough is the fact that Jason Spezza is there. It's the perfect fit for Spezza and the perfect fit for the Stars. He's played in more than 700 games and has a lot of hard battles. He is slotted in as a second-line center but could easily be on the top line; that's a nice luxury to have.
Also, their defense is much better with Johnny Oduya, and Patrick Sharp (two assists) hasn't started to heat up yet. I also like the way Lindy Ruff coaches. I think he's done a great job with that group.
4. Edmonton Oilers making noise
The Oilers have won three games in a row. Coach Todd McLellan is trying to teach his players that they don't have to cheat in order to manufacture offense. When you have that type of skill, you're going to get those offensive looks and your skills will be able to shine. That's what we saw on Connor McDavid's goal against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. Edmonton started in its zone, great defensive support, a little chip off the wall by Nail Yakupov, a beautiful unselfish play by Benoit Pouliot and they Oilers go the length of the ice and use all three zones to score that goal. To me, that goal symbolizes what the Oilers need.
Of course, that improvement is coinciding with McDavid heating up.
Starting goaltender Cam Talbot (2-3-0, 2.23 goals-against average, .920 save percentage) has been good. But don't sleep on Anders Nilsson, who has come in and played well; he made 48 saves in his first start and 33 in his second one.