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. Ryan Getzlaf
Getzlaf has been tremendous since returning from an appendectomy. There's been a lot to like in his game. You have to wonder if he was bothered by the appendix problem more than he let on, at least publically. He prides himself on being a great player and the leader of that team. It was difficult for him because he knew he was far from being 100 percent but he didn't make excuses. He didn't have the best training camp or preseason, but when he started out slow he wasn't looking like himself. Post-surgery, he's come back and looked every good as we expect him to be and know him to be.
The Anaheim Ducks' six-game stretch (4-0-2) has coincided with that. There's no bigger playmaker on that team then Getzlaf. He has four assists in four games. They are generating a lot more offense, and Getzlaf has played with more pace. He has the ability to slow the game down the way few guys can.
2. Jake Allen
St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott was pulled during the Wednesday Night Rivalry game last week against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first period. Allen came on, made 27 saves and got the win, 6-5 in overtime after they were trailing 5-2. Despite travel problems after playing at home on Tuesday, they did everything they could to get the win. They have tons of rookies in their lineup. The fact that they were able to defeat the Stanley Cup Champs is huge. Allen was playing well prior to that game, but I think it brought their team even closer and he's been on an excellent string right now in terms of how he's playing. Allen had two straight shutouts prior to allowing three goals on five shots and getting pulled in a 6-3 loss at the New York Rangers on Thursday.
Allen has a really good technical butterfly foundation. His reads are even more critical because he's a little bit smaller than other goalies so he has less margin for error. Allen is a goalie that plays in motion a lot. He's not stagnant. When he's on, he can push into saves. A lot of times he is moving when he's making saves. He's right on time with that right now. His feel of that and his feel with that is outstanding right now. He's seeing pucks through traffic, which is tough on any goalie especially a guy who is 6-foot-2. He's done a really good job during this current stretch. When I talk to assistant coach Kurt Muller or coach Ken Hitchcock, they say what they've been able to do with all the injuries this season is incredible, and Allen has been a big reason why.
3. Boston Bruins' offense clicking
There's been a big makeover in the style of how they've played, at least offensively. They are trying to be much more dynamic on the offensive end. When you look at their production, they are scoring on average almost four goals per game and that's will without a legitimate No. 1 center. It's been impressive to watch. I didn't see them being this good in this new way this quickly. Claude Julien has done a great job with this group, getting them to two Stanley Cup Finals, and they have been the class of the East in recent years. For them to lose all that personnel from all those teams over time and to be able to score more than those teams is crazy.
Julien is a tremendous coach with a track record of excellence, I'm sure there have been some challenges with the new system, but I give him a lot of credit. I didn't see this ability to score three, four, five goals per night.
One player told me the difficult task is they still have to defend the way they're capable of and have to get better at defending. It's almost like they've improved so much at generating offense but they have to remember how and why they need to defend better. It was their mission in training camp that they were going to play a faster game, a more up-tempo game, a more offensive game. Some of the younger players, like Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak and Colin Miller, allow them to do that. They've been able to play a faster version of their game quicker than I thought possible.
4. New York Rangers' unsung heroes
The Rangers' fast start all starts with Henrik Lundqvist, but I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about how good backup goalie Antti Raanta has been. I don't know if you can find a position coach in all of sports who's more integral to any organization's success than goalie coach than Benoit Allaire. I know firsthand from my time with him in New York and how he was able to help Henrik not only become Henrik but to stay Henrik and continue to improve.
Raanta is kind of quiet, but he's been awesome. He is 3-0-0 with a .976 save percentage and has allowed two goals in three games. He loses his shutout with four seconds left to the Arizona Coyotes but just smiled. I was in touch with him after the game, and the biggest takeaway I can tell you is he loves being a Ranger and loves working with Allaire every day. It shows in his game and how well in the Rangers have played as well. Allaire and the Rangers treat each goalie with the same amount of respect, which has probably contributed to Raanta's success.
Another guy who doesn't get a lot of credit is Kevin Klein. He's another excellent veteran player who's in great shape and is excellent on the ice in his role. You look at all the goals he scored last season; that's not even his game, but he was able to do that without sacrificing all the other great things he brings to the table. Klein is physical, he can fly up the ice and he's perfectly slotted into their team with the depth they have on the back end. He's been excellent and he doesn't get talked about as much. He's a big part of things, and I think he's a very underrated key piece.
And Kevin Hayes is a really, really good young player. He was an excellent find by the Rangers, a steal. You have to give the Rangers' scouting staff credit for that. Oscar Lindberg quietly has scored seven goals. You know a team is playing so well when there are so many people in their lineup that are undercover guys but are key to this team playing as well as they have. The Rangers have been fun to watch.