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Friday Four: Malkin struggling; Anaheim advances

by Kevin Weekes /

Each Friday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, series, plays, trends or really four of whatever from the playoffs that have caught his eye.

The end could be near for the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. They're on the brink of elimination in their respective Eastern Conference First Round series, but why and how can they stay alive?

The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild are locked in a punch, counter-punch series, which is exactly what I thought would happen. But how is it happening? And what might be the difference going forward?

And then there is the one team that has moved on already, the Anaheim Ducks, who swept the Winnipeg Jets. Where does the credit go? Why did the Ducks win in four? What is going to happen to the Jets now?

I've got your answers…

1. Andy in Ottawa, stealing wins

Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson’s return in goal has been a great story, and for him to come back and step in and play right now after being out for so long is beyond impressive.

Goaltending is very similar to golf. It's a very feel intuitive position and the more you play the reality is the better you play. The longer that you go without playing the way he's gone, and to then come in and play the way he has, it's really impressive considering all that.

His fine skills such as his rebound control, stick placement on pucks, retaining pucks in his body for rebound control, timing and footwork have all been really good. He's getting to spots early and he's not chasing the game. His feet are quiet underneath him. He's been able to get position, get depth and make saves.

To be out as long as he was with that injury and show no real rust, that's impressive. He's helped the Senators steal a game in this series against the Montreal Canadiens. He's helped prolong this series. That says a lot, especially having been out of the lineup for that long.

He's giving them hope and I definitely think he can play well again. That's what it comes down to and sure he can. He can steal another game in this series and that might be what the Senators need to feel confident that they can come back down 3-0.

2. Rangers' 'D' the difference along with Malkin's disappearance

It makes such a difference when you have a defense like the New York Rangers. That's the main takeaway from this series and the reason why the Rangers are up 3-1 against the Penguins.

When you have a defense this good, this mobile, that can defend and attack, skates well, can move the puck with a pass or skate the puck, it just makes all the difference in the world. And they're doing it without Kevin Klein, too, which is crazy.

If the Penguins had Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maatta and maybe even Derrick Pouliot they could probably do the same things that the Rangers' 'D' are doing, but it's unfair to ask them to do that now.

Paul Martin is a world-class player, but outside of him Pittsburgh doesn’t have enough guys that can consistently join the attack, or even start the attack from the back. The Rangers have six guys that can do it, and do it well. It's difficult for the Penguins to win when they can't match that.

But another big reason why the Penguins aren't at least even in the series is Evgeni Malkin and how he's not delivering anything.

I don't say this lightly: I'm a big Sidney Crosby and Malkin fan. I've been on the wrong side of both of those players. Pretty much every goalie in the NHL has. They're elite. The elite of the elite, in fact.

I give Crosby credit for how he's playing now, especially having to simplify things offensively. He has done that. He's not always carrying the puck or leading the rush. He's willing to go to the net, get lost and pop out. That's a big thing with him.

With Malkin, I just haven't seen the adjustment. I understand he's playing injured and some of it is frustration because there is no James Neal, but individually he's good enough to impact the game way more than he is right now. He's not, and Pittsburgh needs him. That's the reality.

He has no points, five shots on goal, and zero impact in four games. He can, needs to, and should be way better than he's been. That's a fact. He's way better than this. He needs to show it. They need more from him.

One goal from Malkin to this point and they might be even in this series. Two and they might be leading it. That's not too much to ask for from a world-class player.

3. Blues clue in on the right lines

I expect this series between the Blues and Wild to go seven games anyway, so the fact that they're tied 2-2 is not surprising at all.

The biggest thing in this series and the reason why it's tied is it depends on which Blues' team shows up. You could argue that for both teams, but at least the Wild are playing their game. They had a dud in Game 4, but the Blues sometimes play their new game, and then they don't. When they do, they win; when they don't, they lose.

They did in Game 4 and you saw what happened. Hello, 6-1.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, what's huge for the Blues is that their lines were reunited in Game 4. Those line combinations that they had were the same ones they had when they were playing their best.

David Backes' line, with T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen, was back. Jori Lehtera's line, with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, was dynamic. Paul Stastny's line, with Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin, was back in tact. Ryan Reaves, Steve Ott and Chris Porter are a good fourth line.

Those are the Blues' lines and what their lines need to be. They played their game on Wednesday and when they do that, look out. That's the biggest thing that will have a hand in this series.

They need to keep these lines together. They work. If they're not working, I understand sometimes you need to try to get a spark, but it's been proven over the course of the season that these lines work when everyone is healthy. These are their best lines, so run with them.

You also saw that all those guys were excited about being back together. You could see the fire in Backes' eyes. It's more than him being a Minnesota guy playing against Minnesota. It's bigger than that.

4. Ducks' are flying, Jets still can soar

You have to give Anaheim credit for winning this series against the Jets in a sweep. The Ducks are an excellent team. I really thought Winnipeg was going to defeat them based on physicality. That's not an indictment on Anaheim, but that was my feeling and my take in my bracket.

What I like about the Ducks and what I have to give them credit for is they're comfortable being uncomfortable. They won the most one-goal games in the NHL this year. They came from behind in all these games and they didn't break.

I also like the composure of Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen, who I have been a fan of since he came into the League. The only way you're going to get experience is by playing, so let him play.

But give Winnipeg a lot of credit too. I think Jets coach Paul Maurice and his staff did an amazing job. Sometimes to learn in the NHL you've gotta get punched in the mouth. It's happened to all of us. You have to learn some hard lessons.

Maurice kept saying they did enough good things to get to the playoffs, but now they have to continue doing more good things to get beyond where they got. It starts with taking fewer penalties and having everyone learn to play 60 minutes and not beat themselves.

That's the thing with Anaheim, with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry; there is no panic and they didn't self-destruct. That's a function of learning for the Jets, but they have to learn.

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