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.
New York Islanders
No one is saying it, but the New York Islanders are hot right now. The guys have responded to Doug Weight taking over as coach with five wins in their past six games (5-0-1). Captain John Tavares is playing well; he has 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 11 games in January. Forward Anders Lee is playing well and goaltender Thomas Greiss has been great.
The Islanders aren't far behind the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference (five points) and have games in hand on most teams above them. They are a good example of how competitive the League is. A couple of weeks ago, we thought they were pretty much out of it, but now they have a shot.
Video: Ladd's two-goal game propels Islanders to 3-1 win
The Ottawa Senators are playing really good hockey and goaltender Mike Condon has been really good for them. He has two shutouts in his past five games, including a 42-save performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 19 and a 31-save effort against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. I like his game and he's a really good guy. He works exceptionally hard to be where he is, so that's a really good story in it of itself with Craig Anderson out for personal reasons.
Keep an eye on the Senators. They can score, they can make plays and they have the goaltending. I like the way this team is built. I think what has been underrated is the play of Dion Phaneuf, who has been a good No. 2 on defense behind Erik Karlsson. Phaneuf has been a great fit for them since coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
I am telling you right now, the kids have the Toronto Maple Leafs playing well. It has been a long time since they've looked this good and it's must-see TV watching them play. We know about centers Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander. But they also have forwards like Connor Brown and Zach Hyman, who can play different roles and are just fun to watch. I love their style of play.
I said last year that Frederik Andersen was the goalie the Calgary Flames had the chance to get and didn't. They had a bigger need for him last season than this season but passed on him, and he burned them on Monday with a shutout, and shut out the Detroit Red Wings in his next start on Wednesday.
When you look at all his numbers, you see how well the Edmonton Oilers goaltender has played (26-12-7, 2.33 goals-against average, .922 save percentage, four shutouts), but he also has played 45 games and faced (and saved) tons of shots (1,348 shots against, 1,243 saves, which each lead the NHL). The Oilers are have been better defensively this season and have learned to play better defensively without the puck, and a lot of that has to do with Talbot.
Talbot has been a top-five goalie this season. I had him in the top 10 before the season but he has definitely earned a top-five spot now with the way he has played. After having Devan Dubnyk for five seasons and giving up on him in 2013-14, Edmonton didn't make the mistake when it came to signing Talbot. The Oilers have 64 points and are tied for first place in the Pacific Division and are on pace to make the playoffs for the first time since making the Cup Final in 2006.
Video: EDM@SJS: Talbot robs big chances from Ward, Meier
Cam Atkinson was named to the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star game on Friday as an injury replacement for Evgeni Malkin and it's a well-deserved honor. The forward is the Columbus Blue Jackets leader in goals with 24 and points with 46. He was originally left off the all-star team, but with the season he's having, not having Atkinson there wouldn't have been right.
Brent Burns is on a whole other level. The San Jose Sharks defenseman is by far the Norris Trophy winner right now. When I have to really think about who is second, then you know it's obvious. Burns has 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) in 50 games, including four game-winning goals and two in overtime.
The New York Rangers have played well. I know they lost 2-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday but have been better defensively in this last stretch, when they won three straight prior to Wednesday. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist looks more like himself again, which is a great sign for them.
Video: PHI@NYR: Lundqvist gets low to turn away Raffl
The Dallas Stars finished atop the Western Conference last season but haven't been the same team this season. They are 20-20-10 and outside of the playoff picture looking in. They can score but I think they won't get too far until either of their goaltenders, Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi, play more consistently. It's a tough thing when they are chasing a lot of games, and their goalies haven't been great.