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. Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl
Left Wing - EDM
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 35
SOG: 130 | +/-: 11
The Edmonton Oilers
have surprised some, and the tandem of Hall and Draisaitl is one reason why. Hall (35 points) is tied for fourth in the League in scoring and Draisaitl is playing at well over a point-per game pace with 27 points in 23 games. His numbers are pretty impressive. Draisaitl is second on the team in scoring, even though he's only played 23 games, and he's plus-10. To me, that is the most important thing with him and Hall, who is plus-11. You look at the rest of the team outside of those two guys; in the past, their scorers would be minus players.
Anders Nilsson has been good in net. He's had better numbers than Cam Talbot, although Talbot played well in Boston, making 47 saves in a 3-2 overtime win on Monday. If Talbot can play the way he can play and Nilsson continues to play the way he is playing, that allows the Oilers' other young players to feel confident and be good on the offensive side of the puck.
2. Are the Calgary Flames back?
It all goes back to that third-period comeback against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 1. Down 3-0, they scored three times in the third period, won in a shootout and haven't lost since. They have won seven straight games and are starting to score, with 26 goals in those games.
Add in defenseman TJ Brodie who had a seven-game point streak prior to being held scoreless in a 3-1 win against the Stars on Thursday and their defense, which led the League in scoring last season, has continued to produce. The Flames have had a defenseman score a point in 17 straight games. They are back to making plays in all three zones, which is critical to their success. Also, there is something to be said for the fact that they have confidence knowing that they can win games and overcome deficits in the third period or whenever the game needs to be won. That breeds a lot of confidence in the group.
The only thing for them is that they need their goaltending to stabilize. If Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo play as well as they are capable of, provided the Flames don't go out and get a new goalie, there is no reason that they shouldn't continue to make a run. They are a dangerous team. They're a team nobody wants to play.
3. Washington Capitals
The Capitals have been the most consistent team in the League overall. You look at the balance between their home and road records, their goal differential (plus-27), the balanced offensive production they are getting. And this isn't all because Ovechkin is lightning the lamp (14 goals); Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams have been nice fits.
Goalie - WSH
GAA: 1.83 | SVP: .935
More important, Braden Holtby
is right there in the running for the Vezina Trophy. He leads the League in wins and ranks first in goals-against average and second in save percentage. There has been no drop-off from last season. I asked goalie coach Mitch Korn what the biggest thing was for Holtby this season and he said, "We just have to keep our foot on the gas pedal because this can change at any moment." When your goalie coach is as locked in as your goalie and he isn't even playing, that tells you everything you need to know.
4. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings had lost two games in a row but responded in a big way with a 3-0 win at the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. I talked to assistant general manager Rob Blake and he mentioned the change in their leadership group and some of the new guys who are stepping up as leaders. With the departure of Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams, who really ran the room, there has been a big push in leadership by Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez to offset some of the leaders that have departed.
Brayden McNabb has elevated his game to the point where he can be paired with Doughty, and Muzzin is good enough to basically be the No. 2 defenseman even though he is playing on the second pairing. That goes a long way to their success.
Jonathan Quick is healthy and has been amazing. He made 45 saves Thursday. Quick had a chance to train all summer and not have to rehab, which was huge. Not making the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season benefitted them in that they got more rest. Not to mention, the young kids have been great. The Kings insert guys like Michael Mersch and Jordan Weal, who can play minutes and were point-a-game players in the American Hockey League. It's a function of drafting and development. And Milan Lucic has turned it around.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON
The Ottawa Senators are for real. Of course Erik Karlsson has been amazing but Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Kyle Turris have been offensive studs.
The New Jersey Devils have played extremely well. Mike Cammalleri is a point-a-game player that is somehow being forgotten about.