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.
I'm baffled by the Toronto Maple Leafs, broken-hearted for one of my favorite hockey families, impressed with one of my former teams, and blown away by two phenomenal individual performances in this week's Friday Four:
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
How much time do we have?
OK, let's get right to it. Obviously it's tough for Randy Carlyle to lose his job, but the challenge that remains is what other adjustments are these guys in the Maple Leafs front office willing to make?
You look at Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, and you can't deny that they have improved as players because they have become more complete offensive players.
Kessel is a goal scorer, but now he's a dual threat because he's become a playmaker. JVR has improved his skating and he's not afraid to play big and pay the price. So individually those guys are better offensive players, and what's more is they're not afraid of playing in Toronto.
But let's be real here: when you look at top offensive players on other teams, and I'm talking about Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, or even younger players like Filip Forsberg and Vladimir Tarasenko, you'll find one thing in common:
These guys all play complete games.
It's great to have individual success, because you strive to be the best and when you achieve individual success contracts come easier to you, money comes easier, and fame comes easier. But at some point in time your focus starts shifting from hitting personal marks to winning, and trying to do your best to win.
At what point in time do the players on the Maple Leafs, and I'm talking about them all, not just Kessel and JVR, recognize what these other guys like Getzlaf, Perry, Kane, Toews, Kopitar and Carter do to win? When does that happen?
I mean, these guys on the Leafs have cable too, right? They have TVs, smartphones, and other devices so they can watch the games. They watch the games, particularly during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They see what these guys have done and still are doing.
I just don't understand how they as a group, the Maple Leafs can continue to do the same things they're doing while being aware of what is happening in the rest of the League. This league forces you to make adjustments, and they haven't.
This is part of their team DNA, and it's just weird to me that it continues to happen with no adjustments.
J.P. Parise was obviously an excellent player who had an excellent career in the NHL and for Team Canada, but most people don't know how much he impacted youth hockey, particularly in Minnesota. There are so many players he was able to influence that never even played professionally. He had a big hand in Minnesota youth hockey, not just in his son, Zach, becoming an NHL player.
My heartfelt and deepest sympathy and condolences to Zach Parise and his family on the passing of J.P. late Wednesday night.
I got to know J.P. while playing in New Jersey. He just loved to talk hockey. He was a great man. He always wanted to talk the game and pass on what he knew. He was a great student of the game and that's why Zach is such a great student of the game.
This is an incredibly difficult time for Zach. Just imagine that you go back home to play, sign to go back there, and the reality is you get to play in front of your parents and friends and family every night. He and his dad were exceptionally close. Fortunately his dad was able to see him play every game since he got there, but unfortunately that came to an end prematurely.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Rick Nash has been amazing.
His forecheck, pursuit, backchecking, defensive play and production have all just really been impressive. Even though he put up big numbers in Columbus, he's now just a more determined player, a harder player, and a more competitive player to play against. Right from the start of the season we talked about it, but it's just so impressive to watch him now.
If you listened to the broadcast when the Rangers beat Anaheim on Wednesday they kept talking about how fast the Rangers were, and that's what it needs to be because that's who they are. That's their strength. That's how they need to play. Credit to them for playing that way.
It's no coincidence that they've gone on this run now because they're playing to their strength.
And one more thing: a very unheralded player for the Rangers continues to be defenseman Kevin Klein. He's making a lot of plays. He's dependable and fast. He's playing a great brand of hockey. I don't think he's getting recognized enough for it.
Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov's 54 saves was the goaltending performance of the year, and maybe the performer's performance of the year. Making 54 saves in Chicago; that was unbelievable.
Goalie - COL
GAA: 2.79 | SVP: .918
The best part about it from Varlamov's point of view is those weren't perimeter chances either; the Blackhawks had a ton of Grade A, point-blank, off rebounds chances. Colorado probably gave up 35 or 40 scoring chances in that game. Varlamov stopped them all. That was nuts.
That was a game he'll remember for the rest of his life.
Of course, playing that way and leaving it all up to the goalie is not a recipe for success for the Avalanche, but the good news is I'm told that Varlamov said that was his first game back to reset the season and that's going to be his approach.
I'm interested to see now if he's going to hit his groove in the same way that Sergei Bobrovsky did for the Columbus Blue Jackets when he came back into the lineup.
Can Varlamov keep it rolling now? Obviously he's not going to make 54 saves a night, but any time you're a Vezina Trophy finalist you're super so he's good enough, and they need him more than ever.
The other great performance of the week belongs to St. Louis Blues center David Backes, who scored four straight goals at Arizona. That was crazy. I mean, that was crazy.
Backes is a complete player, but he's not as much of a goal scorer, per se, so the fact that he was able to score four straight is super impressive.
The Blues need him to step up. If he's their No. 1 center he's going up against Kopitar, Getzlaf and Toews, etc. They definitely need that from him.