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.
Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard has played very well. He's put in a lot of work on his game in the offseason, and it's paying dividends for him and for Detroit. Howard has started three consecutive games and helped the Red Wings win two of them. He's allowed eight goals in six starts this season, and is 4-2-0 with a 1.64 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage. The 32-year-old is proving he can still play after a down season in 2015-16.
Howard is a two time All-Star and Petr Mrazek is on his way to the same. Although Mrazek has struggled, allowing four goals in three straight games, the Red Wings have to be happy with their tandem in goal. The two are a big reason the Red Wings are 8-6-1 and looking to extend their streak of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs to 26 seasons.
Video: VAN@DET: Howard makes strong pair of pad saves
The Los Angeles Kings have to be pleased with the play of Peter Budaj. Granted, they didn't think he'd be playing this much and contributing this much, but that changed with the injury to Jonathan Quick on opening night. Before allowing three goals on 22 shots in a 4-1 road loss to the Canadiens on Thursday, he had two straight shutouts. I talked to people in L.A. and they said Budaj will be the guy to carry the load while Quick is out.
Budaj is 7-4-0 with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage after the 34-year-old played in all of one game with the Kings last season. He's been an NHL starter before with the Colorado Avalanche and the Canadiens, and he's doing his best to prove he can still play at an NHL level.
Laine said prior to the 2016 NHL Draft that he was the best player in that draft, and so far, who could argue? No. 1 pick Auston Matthews had four goals in his debut but has one point in his past seven games, while Laine leads the League in goals with 11 and is tied for sixth in points (16). The Winnipeg Jets left wing already has two hat tricks and reminds me a little bit of a Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. Mario is one of the greatest players ever in terms of size, reach, ability to score from different spots and generate in different ways offensively. Laine has that same hockey IQ and is a better playmaker than people give him credit for.
Video: DAL@WPG: Laine leads Jets to rout with hatty
They are 12-1-1 and have won three straight since a 10-0 loss at the Columbus Blue Jackets last Friday. Carey Price has been lights out again; he's 9-0-0 with a 1.56 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage. Shea Weber has been a Norris Trophy candidate, proving to be a huge addition both offensively and defensively.
Everyone is chipping in. Center Paul Byron got his fourth goal on Thursday. The Canadiens are playing a harder game as a team. I feel they are playing with a little more of an edge right now instead of being somewhat soft as we've seen.
The Minnesota Wild had a big 4-2 road win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Eric Staal has looked like the Eric Staal of old. That intensity is back and he's hungry to play the game again. Staal has five goals and 11 points and has a spark again. He's helped fuel the Wild this season.
The Maple Leafs had a very humbling 7-0 loss to the Kings on Tuesday, but I'm impressed with what Matthews, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner have been able to do as rookies. They are the top three scorers on the team.
Keep an eye on Blue Jackets rookie defenseman Zach Werenski. He had the game-winning goal in overtime against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday and makes plays, sees the ice well and is very intelligent.
Lastly, props to the Chicago Blackhawks, who have won seven straight games and look like the team we know they could be.