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Friday Four: Ducks' curious move, Jets on defensive

by Kevin Weekes

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.

Ilya Bryzgalov back in Anaheim, getting defensive in Winnipeg, moving up in Columbus, and a major night for a goalie in Toronto who has earned his respect. It's all in my Friday Four:

1. Curious case of the Anaheim Ducks

OK, the Ducks are playing well. They've won five in a row. They are an excellent team. They lead the League with 43 points. They've done all this in spite of some major injuries, particularly to Corey Perry, who is still out.

Give credit to the guys that have stepped up, like Matt Beleskey. He has 14 goals. Compare and contrast that to a lot of star players who don't have 14 goals. He's been a great story. He has elevated his game this season by taking advantage of increased looks and more ice time.

The Ducks have tons of depth. That speaks to their drafting and developing, which I have mentioned before. They have one of the richest stocks of young talent in the NHL. Look at the young guys who played last season and now this season, and they're still first in the League.

Ilya Bryzgalov
Goalie - ANA
Record: -
GAA: - | Sv%: -
But it's a curious case of how this whole thing with Ilya Bryzgalov signing went down. I don't get it.

Here the Ducks have Frederik Andersen, who has been excellent. They have super prospect John Gibson, who lit everything on fire last year and has been tracking that way since the under-17s. He gets injured and now he gets jumped by Bryzgalov? And in addition you're paying him $2.88 million, more than Andersen, Gibson and Jason LaBarbera combined?

Look, I'm happy for Bryz. I'm glad he's back in the League. I think it's great for him. I really do. But what does this say to John Gibson?

I know Gibson is not entitled. I know he's a second-year pro. But what does it say to him that now he's going to have to spend another season in the American Hockey League. He's already proven himself in the AHL.

If Andersen was struggling, I could understand. If Gibson didn't make a seamless transition to pro hockey, I could understand. I'm just confused about what they did, why they did it, why they paid what they did, and the ramifications it has on Gibson, who has knocked it out of the park.

2. Jets getting defensive

The Winnipeg Jets have made amazing strides, particularly with their defense, under coach Paul Maurice. Look at their game against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. The Jets completely dominated that game, outshot Dallas by a big margin and won 5-2. Of course we know Dallas is struggling with its defense, but the Stars can score. The Jets held them down.

I'm really impressed with how they've committed to playing much better defensively under Maurice. They're a different team now than they have been.

I know former Jets coach Claude Noel was doing his best to sell those guys on playing this way, but those guys didn't want to listen. They were taking penalties, which was killing them. They had guys who weren't committed to playing two ways. Now they're completely different.

I also spoke to their goalie coach Wade Flaherty about Ondrej Pavelec, and he said Pavelec is playing a more technical game, not allowing as many goals through the body, being more solid.

And Michael Hutchinson has just been excellent. I remember watching him when he was called up at a morning skate at Air Canada Centre going, "Who is this guy?" Then he went on that great AHL run. Now he's playing great.

Jacob Trouba jumps out at you every game. Dustin Byfuglien has played well. Their fourth line has played better, allowing Maurice to roll all of his lines.

Overall they've been a much better, more conscious defensive team. They've made strides.

3. Don't sleep on the Blue Jackets

Brandon Dubinsky
Center - CBJ
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 0 | +/-: -1
Brandon Dubinsky is back for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and you know that is going to have a big impact on their team. They've won five in a row after beating the Washington Capitals 3-2 in overtime Thursday, and Sergei Bobrovsky is playing really well. He's playing like his Vezina Trophy-winning self.

I think the Blue Jackets can keep this up and get back into the race. They were a good hockey team last season and they are decimated by injuries this season.

Bobrovsky was hurt. Dubinsky was injured. Artem Anisimov is injured. It seems like everybody there has been hurt, but they are a much better team than people recognize. I think they have a lot of upside, and we'll see if they're just hitting their stride now.

4. Give Reimer his due

Obviously Jonathan Bernier has been excellent and he's become the No. 1 goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but I maintain the Leafs are fortunate to have the goaltending they have because without it I don't know where they would be.

That said, sometimes I don't understand the rationale of coaching staffs. You don't play a guy like James Reimer for three-plus weeks and then you go into Detroit and say, "Hey, time to give it a go." Like, what?

I understand you had to give Bernier a rest, but you could have given him a rest another time.

This is all about putting players in position to succeed, and no way, shape or form was putting Reimer in for that start against the red-hot Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena when the Maple Leafs were playing a back-to-back putting him in a position to succeed.

But credit Reimer, because he was amazing. His reads were great. Positionally he was great. His rebound control was great. His timing was great. His compete level and composure were great, even though the Maple Leafs were getting outshot by a wide, wide margin.

He checked off all the boxes, which is amazing for a guy who hadn't started since Nov. 18. I loved the way he handled himself. I love the way he was able to come out and perform and crush it even though he wasn't put in a position to succeed.

It's easy to be a good guy when you're getting the ice time, the team is promoting you, the team is pumping you, all the billboards have your name. It's another thing when you know you can play, you've proven you can play, you continue to prove you can play, you haven't played in almost a month and you knock it out of the park the way he did.

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