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Weekes on the Web

Friday Four: Laine making push for Richard Trophy

NHL Network analyst Weekes also discusses Flyers, Avalanche, injuries to rookies Boeser, McAvoy

by Kevin Weekes @KevinWeekes / NHL Network Analyst

Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will bring you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.

 

Patrik Laine

What can you say about Laine? The Winnipeg Jets forward has quietly gotten up to 39 goals this season and could lead the League (Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has 40) in his second NHL season. Laine scored for the fourth straight game Thursday; he has eight goals in four games and 14 goals in his past 10 games.

The 19-year-old, who has one of the purest releases in the League, has scored 75 goals in his first two NHL seasons; he's tied for fifth all-time in goals by a teenager. Laine has scored in nine of his past 10 games and has the Jets nipping at the heels of the Nashville Predators for the top spot in the Central. They're six points back despite Nashville having won 10 straight games. What's more is Laine hasn't had the sophomore slump, but rather, seems to have learned more and is actually playing better in his second NHL season.

When you add in Blake Wheeler, who has 75 points this season, newly acquired center Paul Stastny and goalie Connor Hellebuyck, I wouldn't want to face Laine and the Jets in the playoffs, that's for sure.

Video: Las Vegas #AwardWorthy: Laine's 10-game point streak

 

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers are in third place in the Metropolitan Division but are no lock to make the playoffs. They've lost five straight by a score of 22-12 and didn't look good in a 5-2 home loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. They looked better but not great in a 3-2 road loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday, a game in which they allowed the winning goal with 22 seconds left in the third period.

Goaltender Petr Mrazek has struggled recently, allowing 18 goals in his past four starts -- all losses -- after his Flyers career started so well. Backup Alex Lyon played Thursday, but Mrazek is going to be the guy counted on to get the bulk of the starts and get them into the playoffs.

The penalty kill is 29th in the NHL (75.5 percent) and the power play ranks is 17th (20.2 percent). That needs to change. The Flyers play the Winnipeg Jets, Vegas Golden Knights and Columbus Blue Jackets in their next three games, so it won't be easy, but they have to get back in the winning column.

 

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche are playing great hockey and are probably the most surprising team in the NHL next to the Golden Knights. True, they've lost three straight games in overtime but at 35-24-8, are in the thick of the wild-card race in the Western Conference.

Center Nathan MacKinnon has to be considered for the Hart Trophy despite missing time with an injury. He has been a one-man wrecking crew for them this season, and with 79 points, is near the top of the scoring race. Forwards Mikko Rantanen (22 goals, 64 points) and Gabriel Landeskog (21 goals) have also had great seasons.

One of the main things for me has been their goaltending. Semyon Varlamov has played well this season, and when he missed time with injury, backup Jonathan Bernier played lights-out hockey during their 10 game-winning streak. It will be tough because of their schedule and competing with four other teams.

Video: COL@CBJ: Barrie scores from a tough angle

 

Injuries sideline two top rookies

Forward Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks and defenseman Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins have been two of the NHL's most exciting rookies this season. Unfortunately, each was injured recently and could be out for the rest of the season.

Boeser, who leads all rookies with 29 goals and is second in points with 55, will be out 4-6 weeks with a back injury. Next up for him would've been 30 goals, something not many rookies achieve. McAvoy has a sprained left MCL and is expected to miss four weeks, so hopefully he will be OK before the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. My thought is that he'll be able to return if they go farther.

Those two along with center Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders were the three favorites for the Calder Trophy race; with Boeser and McAvoy out, Barzal (18 goals, 69 points) has it all but locked up.

Speaking of rookies, last season's Calder Trophy winner, Auston Matthews (28 goals, 50 points in 2017-18) of the Toronto Maple Leafs has missed five games with a shoulder injury. There's no need for the Maple Leafs to rush the second-year center's return because they've has all but clinched a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. The Maple Leafs (39-22-7) are third in the Atlantic Division, six points behind Boston but 12 ahead of the fourth-place Florida Panthers.

Video: Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews' injury update

 

HONORABLE MENTION

What Roberto Luongo, who will be 39 on April 4, has been able to do for the Panthers is incredible. Luongo had a 40-save shutout against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday to keep Florida within two points of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the East. They're 14-3-1 since the All-Star break and have three games in hand on each of the teams in front of them.

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