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.
They are missing one of the best players in the NHL in Tyler Seguin but they keep rolling. We spoke to Jamie Benn on NHL Network on Thursday after he scored his 40th goal of the season. He's the first to score 40 for the Stars since Mike Modano had 50 in 1993-94. I've been so impressed with Benn. I said this earlier in the season, but to me he is a left-handed Eric Lindros-lite. He plays a similar game to Lindros in many ways. Let's not forget Benn won the scoring title last season.
The Stars have three 30-goal scorers. In addition to Benn, Seguin has 37 and Jason Spezza has 30. And Patrick Sharp scored his 20th on Thursday in a 4-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes. It's hard not to be impressed with them when they have this many offensive weapons. The Stars are a real dynamic team, and even without Seguin they have been great.
Although we talk about their offense, they are plus-35 in goal differential, which is second in the League behind the Washington Capitals. Right now they are the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Video: ARI@DAL: Ja. Benn ties the game with his 40th goal
It wasn't long ago that they were fighting for a playoff spot. Now they're challenging the New York Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins have won 10 of 11 games (10-1-0) following a 5-2 win against the Nashville Predators on Thursday, and this is without Evgeni Malkin. They are getting production up and down the lineup. Matt Cullen, Conor Sheary and Tom Kuhnhackl are just a few of the players who have chipped in offensively.
I asked Cullen about their recent play, and he said they are playing with more speed and more skill. It helps when Sidney Crosby is on a tear like he is, having an amazing second half of the season.
In addition to that, Kris Letang scored his 16th goal of the season Thursday. This season he's set NHL career bests in goals and points (61). The addition of forward Carl Hagelin and defenseman Trevor Daley has added more speed. Daley compliments Letang well. Letang is the one player I think the Penguins can ill afford to lose.
Quietly, Phil Kessel has 25 goals and 56 points. He started slow but has hit his stride at the right time, and I think it's coincided with the absence of Malkin. A lot of people are concerned with who Kessel is going to play with, but he doesn't need to play with anyone to generate offense. He has the ability to create for himself or his teammates.
It was a big 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday to move the Panthers ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning and into first place in the Atlantic Division. But learning before the game that forward Vincent Trocheck would miss the rest of the regular season is a big loss. I spoke to one player in the organization and he said Trocheck was their best player the past 10 games. Jaromir Jagr also said, "We just lost our best player," when Trocheck got hurt. When the third leading all-time scorer says that, I don't know how much more praise you can ask for than that. Trocheck and linemates Jussi Jokinen (17 goals, 58 points) and Reilly Smith (24 goals, 47 points) were playing as good as some top lines in the League. Trocheck, who has 25 goals and 53 points in 76 games, has been more assertive in his offensive game this season, which is why he was so successful.
The theme Friday was power goals. Power hockey in the NHL. It wasn't just about slap shots, wrist shots and one-timers, but power moves. They were all about determination, and that's the kind of game you need to play, especially this time of the season, if you want to generate any offense.
Montreal Canadiens forward Torey Mitchell's goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning; New York Rangers forward Rick Nash's goal against the Carolina Hurricanes; Rangers forward Chris Kreider's goal; and Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise's goal against the Ottawa Senators all showcased great individual effort.
The St. Louis Blues have won five straight games, the first four via shutout. Their shutout streak ended at 258:30 when they allowed a goal to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, but they still won the game 3-1. Brian Elliott and Jake Allen have been amazing no matter which one has been in net.
Video: STL@WSH: Allen backstops Blues to franchise record
St. Louis is two points behind the Stars for first in the Central Division but has a game in hand. It's even more impressive when you consider all the injuries they've had to deal with this season.
The Anaheim Ducks continue to impress with their depth scoring. Jakob Silfverberg has nine goals in nine games; Jamie McGinn has six goals in eight games; Rickard Rakell has scored 20 goals for the first time in the NHL; and Chris Stewart recently returned from injury. He is going to be an important piece for them. The Ducks can match any way their opponents play, which makes them so difficult to play against.