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Weekes on the Web

Friday Four: Blue Jackets quietly leading Metropolitan Division

NHL Network's Kevin Weekes also discusses Penguins, Kings, Coyotes

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.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets began the season 4-4-0 but have gone 7-2-2 since to move into first place in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 11-6-2. One of the biggest reasons is goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who has turned his game around. After allowing four goals against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 3, he's allowed one goal in each of his past three games, playing like the Vezina Trophy winner he is. Bobrovsky is 6-6-0 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Backup Joonas Korpisalo's goals-against average is 3.67 and his save percentage is .885, but he's 5-0-2, which is what matters most.

It's nice to see defenseman Seth Jones healthy again. Jones missed the first seven games of the season after injuring his knee in the preseason, but has nine points (two goals, seven assists) since returning on Oct. 23. He's averaging 26:02 per game, ahead of defenseman Zach Werenski, who is averaging 22:27 per game, and has 12 points (three goals, nine assists). Not only do they eat up minutes, they provide scoring as well. Speaking of offense, forward Pierre-Luc Dubois has nine goals, including seven in his past 10 games, and forwards Cam Atkinson (nine goals) and Artemi Panarin (18 points; five goals, 13 assists) have good numbers through 18 games.

Then you add forward Anthony Duclair, who has 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in 19 games. Duclair, who signed a one-year contract with the Blue Jackets on July 6, came in hungry and has delivered. Josh Anderson has delivered too. The forward has seven goals and plays hard every night. 

Video: CBJ@DAL: Bobrovsky stones Spezza in waning seconds

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins (7-7-3) are tied with the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers for last place in the Eastern Conference with 17 points. They have lost seven of eight games (1-6-1) including 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

Center Sidney Crosby missed the game and could be out a week with an upper-body injury. The Penguins are already without center Derick Brassard (lower-body injury) and defenseman Justin Schultz (left leg fracture), which has clearly had an impact on them.

Goalie Matt Murray, who is 4-5-1 with a 3.90 goals-against average and .883 save percentage, sat behind Casey DeSmith for three straight games before Thursday. The Penguins need Murray to return to the form he had when he helped the Penguins win Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017. General manager Jim Rutherford isn't afraid to shake things up and did that by trading forward Carl Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings for forward Tanner Pearson on Wednesday. Pearson had no points playing on a line with center Evgeni Malkin on Thursday. If the Penguins don't start winning games soon, you can expect Rutherford to make more changes.

Video: Breaking down the Tanner Pearson-Carl Hagelin swap

 

Los Angeles Kings

It's been a difficult start to the season for the Kings (5-11-1), who are in last place in the Western Conference. The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 and had 98 points last season but were swept in the Western Conference First Round by the Vegas Golden Knights. The signing of free agent forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who had played the previous six seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, was supposed to put them over the top. Instead, the Kings rank last in goals per game (2.00) and have allowed the 11th-most goals per game (3.24). Their power play ranks 26th at 14.3 percent and their penalty kill is 19th at 78.4 percent. The Kings are hoping the speedy Hagelin will help remedy some of these problems.

It doesn't help that goalies Jonathan Quick and Jack Campbell are out after each had knee surgery. It's asking a lot of Peter Budaj, who went 27-20-3 filling in for Quick in 2016-17, to perform at that high level again. Expect rookie Calvin Petersen, who made his NHL debut in relief on Budaj in a 5-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 13, to see playing time; he will make his first NHL start Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, NBCSCH, FS-W, NHL.TV).

 

Arizona Coyotes

I said Thursday would be a trap game for Nashville Predators, and it was. The Coyotes defeated the Western Conference-leading Predators, 2-1, behind good goaltending and a shorthanded goal. Darcy Kuemper made 44 saves filling in for the injured Antti Raanta (lower-body injury) and Michael Grabner scored his fourth shorthanded goal of the season. The Coyotes lead the NHL with 10 shorthanded goals.

Arizona (9-8-1), which is four points behind the first-place San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division, signed defenseman Jakob Chychrun to a six-year contract Tuesday and have some good young pieces with him and forward Clayton Keller. They also have a solid group of veterans in defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski, forwards Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Alex Galchenyuk, and Raanta.

Video: Grabner scores SHG, Kuemper makes 44 saves in 2-1 win

 

Honorable mention

Defenseman Nate Schmidt is expected to return from his 20-game suspension for the Golden Knights against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV). The Golden Knights (8-10-1) have not had the type of season they envisioned after reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season but are hoping Schmidt can be the player he was in 2017-18 when he led them in ice time (22:14) and was second to Colin Miller (41 points) in scoring among defensemen with 36 points (five goals, 31 assists).

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