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.
St. Louis Blues
Even though the Blues were struggling, it was still a surprise that they fired Ken Hitchcock on Wednesday. He had 248 wins with the Blues and a .650 winning percentage, including five straight trips to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. When he got there in 2011, the Blues were in flux and couldn't defend. He changed that.
St. Louis was really difficult to play against. I think with the likes of Ryan Reaves and Kyle Brodziak they still are, but not as much throughout their group after losing David Backes, Troy Brouwer and T.J. Oshie during the past two offseasons. Maybe they want to be a quicker team that plays a faster and more skilled game, but a key part of their game was that physicality, that edge, and they've lost some of that.
It's a tough stretch. I've said this all along, I think Jake Allen is a really good goalie but he's going through a tough stretch. They also had some coaching changes this season that hurt. Former assistant coaches Kirk Muller and Brad Shaw had an impact on how the Blues defended in years past but have moved on to roles with other teams. Those are a lot of key people on the team and behind the bench who aren't there. So it will take some time. It was a unique situation having Mike Yeo as the coach-in-waiting when he was hired as an assistant before this season. St. Louis a great hockey town, but for whatever reason, storm clouds came in and general manager Doug Armstrong had to make changes and did. This gives Yeo a chance to evolve and grow as a coach. We'll see if the Blues can turn it around. They got off to a nice start with a 5-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
Video: Stastny's two-goal night leads Blues past Leafs
Bryan Little had a goal in a 4-3 road win against the Dallas Stars on Thursday and has 28 points in 31 games this season. Everyone looks at a lot of their other guys like Mark Scheifele (25 goals, 53 points), Nikolaj Ehlers (19 goals, 47 points) and Patrik Laine (23 goals, 43 points), but Little has done it all, both offensively and defensively.
Ondrej Pavelec was demoted to Manitoba of the American Hockey League prior to the season but has started six of the past seven for the Jets with success. Winnipeg wasn't getting consistent results from Michael Hutchinson or Connor Hellebuyck, so the Jets gave Pavelec another shot. They were outshot 42-29 and still beat the Stars on the road. That's three wins in a row, and if they can commit more defensively and in the neutral zone, they would be a really good team. The Jets are a little bit behind where they should be, but general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the scouts have done a great job with the young players mentioned above.
The 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend was filled with great moments. The actual games got more competitive as they went along. Getting to see Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin play together was another highlight. Seeing the NHL 100 Greatest Players presented by Molson was a treat for me as well. I think I played with or against north of 40 of those guys. Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Dominik Hasek are just a few of them, and I was just blown away with speaking to them. They were all genuinely humbled to be there, and it was a privilege to be able to vote on that panel. The Los Angeles Kings did a great job with the whole weekend. It was everything we expected it would be, and more.
Video: Metro All-Stars defeat Pacific All-Stars in Finals
Keep your eyes on the Senators. Coach Guy Boucher has done a nice job. On Thursday, he went into Tampa Bay where he began his NHL coaching career, and came out with a 5-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Mark Stone, Kyle Turris and Zack Smith are all playing well. Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf are helping Erik Karlsson on defense, offensively and defensively.
Mike Condon has come in and done an awesome job filling in for Craig Anderson, who's been away from the team to be with his wife whuile she was being treated for cancer. Condon has played almost every game for the past two months, and the Senators are quietly 27-16-6; they've closed within seven points of the first-place Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division.
Congrats to Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks, who scored his 500th NHL goal on Thursday. He's been on a tear lately with seven goals in five games, including four -- all in the third period -- against the Colorado Avalanche last week. He's got 19 goals this season and has played his entire 19-year career in San Jose. The interesting thing about Marleau is that coach Pete DeBoer has played him all over the lineup and he's still produced. He may not receive the recognition that teammates Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski or Brent Burns get, but they know how important he is to the team.
Video: SJS@VAN: Marleau goes top shelf for 500th career goal
I have to give a shout out to goaltender Peter Budaj of the Los Angeles Kings. He could have gone overseas but stayed in the American Hockey League hoping for another shot in the NHL, and once he got it, he has run with it. Budaj is 24-14-3 with a 2.01 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and six shutouts, tied for the League lead. It's safe to say no one thought he'd perform this well in the absence of Jonathan Quick, who was injured on opening night and is still not ready to return.