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.
Steven Stamkos, Johnny Gaudreau injuries
Terrible news for the Tampa Bay Lightning that they lose their captain Steven Stamkos for four months with a meniscus tear in his knee. He was playing very well (20 points in 17 games). The NHL loses one of its best players and the Lightning lose their captain. It's really difficult especially after missing most of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season with a blood clot.
But if there's a silver lining, it's that the Lightning have played without him before. They have a really deep team. It makes the signing of Nikita Kucherov (22 points in 17 games) that more meaningful. And Jonathan Drouin coming back from injury on Thursday in a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres after missing two weeks, is huge for them. Both of these guys played a huge role in the Lightning advancing to the Eastern Conference Final last season when Stamkos was out.
In the case of Johnny Gaudreau for the Calgary Flames, it's tough for them since he was starting to find his scoring touch again. Gaudreau fractured his finger and will miss approximately six weeks. That's a tough blow to the Flames, who will need more scoring from their forwards, perhaps rookie Matthew Tkachuk, as well as their defense which was known for its offensive ability last season. Gaudreau is almost like a one man show, how he has the ability to generate offense on his own which is why I feel the Flames will be hurt more by his loss than the Lightning will be without Stamkos.
Video: What Stamkos's injury means for the Lightning
Eric Staal had a disappointing season in 2015-16 with the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers. He had 13 goals and 39 points, his fewest since his rookie season (2003-04). Now playing with the Minnesota Wild, Staal looks resurgent. The last few years, he hasn't looked like himself. This season, he's scored, blocked shots, done everything. It's been a long time since I've seen that consistency from Staal. He's playing with a fire which was missing. Combine Staal's play with the play of goalie Devan Dubnyk (25-save shutout in a 1-0 win against the Boston Bruins on Thursday) and Zach Parise returning to the lineup and it's not hard to see why the Wild have played better.
Maple Leafs and the kids
The Toronto Maple Leafs are showing they should not be taken lightly. Auston Matthews doesn't have a goal in 11 games and the Maple Leafs still managed to go 7-4-0 in those games, scoringat least six goals in four of the past six games. Connor Brown had two goals and four points in a 5-1 win against the Florida Panthers on Thursday; Mitch Marner has three goals in four games; William Nylander has 13 points in 17 games. Morgan Rielly and Connor Carrick also shouldn't be forgotten about. There's internal competition there which is great for the whole team. Let's not forget the Maple Leafs are 7-2-0 at Air Canada Centre this season.
Video: Mitch Marner triple-deke's his way to a goal
Eastern Conference is tight
Usually it's been the Western Conference that has been the power conference but there's a shift in the balance to the Eastern Conference. Look at how many teams are playing well in the East right now. With the exception of the New York Islanders, every team that made the playoffs is playing well, or competing every night. Then you add to that the Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins - non-playoff teams last season - and it will be interesting to see how these races shake out. It's more competitive a conference than it has been.
That was a big 7-1 win for the Washington Capitals against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. It was a statement game for the Capitals, who not only lost to the Penguins in the second round of the playoffs last season, but also had to watch the Penguins raise their Stanley Cup banner on opening night this season, a game in which they lost 3-2 in a shootout. Washington still has something to prove in the playoffs, and this game was the kind of effort they showed last season on their way to winning the Presidents' Trophy.