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.
Wild-card races getting interesting
The races for the two wild-card spots in each conference likely will come down to the last few days of the season. The Nashville Predators, who play at the Washington Capitals on Friday (7 p.m. ET; FS-TN, CSN-DC, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) lead the Colorado Avalanche by nine points for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. But the Avalanche, who play at the Calgary Flames on Friday (9 p.m. ET; ALT, SNF, NHL.TV), lead the Minnesota Wild by one point for the second wild card. The Predators have gone 11-1-5 in their past 17 games to best position themselves among the wild-card teams, and they have a plus-15 goal differential.
In the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins are beginning to separate themselves from the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers; they have three more points than the Red Wings, who occupy the second wild card and played one more game. The Penguins are one point behind the Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division.
But the race between the Red Wings and Flyers is compelling. The Flyers trail the Red Wings by one point but have two games in hand. They beat the Red Wings 4-3 on Tuesday and followed that with a 3-2 win Wednesday at the Chicago Blackhawks. The Red Wings came back with a win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, which they desperately needed.
Philadelphia is getting scoring from secondary sources like Ryan White, Michael Raffl and Radko Gudas.
He's scored at every level, from minor hockey in Toronto to Mississauga in the Ontario Hockey League to the American Hockey League and at times in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks when he had the opportunity. He's someone I've known for a long time and the sky is the limit to what kind of player he can become.
Video: MIN@NJD: Smith-Pelly scores twice in big win
Since he was traded to the Devils on Feb. 29 he has six goals in seven games. He had six goals in 46 games with the Canadiens this season prior to the trade. Smith-Pelly had two goals in the Devils' 7-4 win against the Wild on Thursday. I remember speaking to some members of the Devils organization after the trade and they were really excited about the potential of what he could do in their group. He's playing like a man possessed since the trade.
If I'm Smith-Pelly I see this as an unbelievable opportunity, with the Devils retooling, to make the most of it and show them what he can do in the future.
San Jose Sharks
I take the Sharks more seriously than I have in the past. They've always been a consistent team. They have amazing top-end players in Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. Logan Couture to me is a really good player. Of course their goaltending is solid with Martin Jones and now James Reimer coming in. But they have more depth up and down their lineup and that was something that they didn't have in years gone by. They needed more production from their bottom six.
Video: BOS@SJS: Burns slides pass that ricochets past Rask
After missing the playoffs last season, the Sharks are on their way back this season. They have a plus-23 goal differential, but they need to improve at home where they are 14-15-3; they're 25-10-3 on the road.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have won three games in a row and have opened a six-point lead on the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division. And they haven't been beating lousy teams, either. During the win streak they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-0 and the Dallas Stars 5-2, both on the road, and then returned home for a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win against the New York Rangers on Thursday.
The Kings also are the stingiest team in the League, allowing 2.24 goals per game, the fewest in the League. Top to bottom, up and down the lineup, everyone is contributing. They've been playing a complete game. Jonathan Quick became the NHL leader in shutouts by a U.S.-born goalie with his 41st in the win against the Blackhawks. And Anze Kopitar has six goals in eight games in March, three of them game-winners. The Kings look every bit like the team that won the Stanley Cup twice in three seasons prior to missing the playoffs last season.
How good is Jason Spezza? He's a natural fit with the Dallas Stars and a great fit for their style of play. Spezza had a goal Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning and has eight goals in eight games, including at least one goal in seven of eight games. They slot him as the second-line center even though he's been almost a point-per-game player throughout his career, with 803 points in 834 games.
Vincent Trocheck of the Florida Panthers has had an underrated season. His skill is one thing, but it's also his effort. He's a well-rounded player who doesn't get anywhere near as much credit as he should. The 22-year old center has set NHL career-highs in goals (21), assists (27) and points (48) in 71 games this season; he had 12 goals and 30 points in 70 games the previous two seasons.