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Friday Four: Senators rolling, Predators struggling

by Kevin Weekes

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. Ottawa Senators

The Senators haven't taken a step back after finishing strong last season. They are getting great goaltending from Craig Anderson, who is 4-0-2 in his past six starts, and there hasn't been a letdown from any of their young players like Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone or Mika Zibanejad.

They scored seven goals against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, and the next night they go into Denver against the Colorado Avalanche and score five. That's 12 goals on the road against the Western Conference in two games.

General manager Bryan Murray has done a great job assembling this team. I think coach Dave Cameron has done a great job as well in taking over after Paul MacLean was fired as coach in the middle of last season.

This team is maintaining a lot of the momentum from last season, when they went 21-3-3 to close out the regular season on their way to a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bobby Ryan said he would have a bounce-back season after struggling and he's done that to this point with 20 points in 22 games.

Add defenseman Erik Karlsson to the conversation. He is a game-breaker, and that makes the Senators even stronger and a formidable team once again.

2. Montreal Canadiens

Playing the New York Rangers on Wednesday, this was a huge game for each team and in the standings. The Canadiens once again defeated the Rangers, this time in blowout fashion. Going into the game, I talked to players on each team, and they all said it was going to be a great goalie matchup, Henrik Lundqvist against Carey Price. Lundqvist has been on an amazing run, but this was his first somewhat off game. To me, he has the Vezina Trophy locked up at this point.

And then Price ends up getting injured in his third game back from his lower-body injury. Guys on both teams were excited since these are the best teams in the League right now, and this game was really not a contest. Montreal really dominated this one at the expense of Price, who ended up tweaking something on the right side. I spoke to a member of the Canadiens after the game, and they said they would be patient with the injury and allow him all the time he needs to heal.

I think that goes hand-in-hand with what Canadiens goaltending coach Stephane Waite was saying at the pregame skate, that Mike Condon has made some major strides. He started nine straight games and played exceptionally well when Price was out. He inspires a lot of confidence in their team. Condon has worked hard for everything he's had. Played at Princeton, started in the ECHL, but everyone in the organization really respects his work ethic. His road to the NHL was very different than Price's. Condon is confident and calm in the net, he's been good to watch, and he's been stabilizing their group, and they will have to lean on him as well.

Devante Smith-Pelly also filled in quite nicely for Brendan Gallagher, who will be out six weeks with hand surgery, on Montreal's top line Wednesday. He had two goals on two shots, and his line with Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec combined for seven points.

3. Nashville Predators

The Predators were shut out in three straight games before a 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday in a much-needed victory. Goalie Carter Hutton ended up playing very well for them, giving Pekka Rinne the night off. The players don't feel the losses have been all on Pekka; they haven't been scoring.

They need Filip Forsberg to get going. He is too important of a player in that group to not score. Colin Wilson, Craig Smith and Mike Ribeiro, who were so good for them last year, haven't played at the same clip. I think the only consistent offense they are getting is from James Neal.

Their defense is a big part of their offense, with Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones, and those guys have been struggling too. But the win couldn't have come at a better time. Let's see if they can carry this offense forward in their next game on Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

4. Winnipeg Jets

The injury to goalie Ondrej Pavelec hurts the Jets but means Michael Hutchinson and prospect Connor Hellebuyck now have to step up. Hellebuyck is a kid who has an accomplished career, leading the United States to a medal in the 2015 World Championships, so he has pedigree.

Pavelec was able to solidify his game and take over in the second half of last season and get them into the playoffs. But this is big injury for them. Hutchinson isn't just a young guy who got called up, even though last year was his rookie year. Now teams have seen him, and I think he has tons of talent, but it's a great opportunity for him to be the one.

The difficult thing for Winnipeg is it takes so many penalties. At some point, you have to look at yourself as a group and say, "We have a good coach, we made the playoffs last year. How are we still taking penalties that we have for the past several seasons?"

The Jets also have to commit to playing better defensively. I like their team. There are a lot of pieces that I like in Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Little, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Mathieu Perreault. But they just need to really refine how they play and their level of commitment to defense. They also need to be a lot more disciplined. They can score goals in different ways and are very skilled. And those things would be able to help their goalie as well. It will be interesting to see how these guys deliver in the absence of Pavelec.

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