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.
Tampa Bay Lightning
It's scary to play the Lightning. Their 5-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 on Thursday has them atop the NHL standings 13-2-2. The first line of forwards Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov had 14 more points than any other line entering Thursday, and they added to their total with six points (three goals, three assists) against the Kings.
You can go up and down the lineup. Forward Tyler Johnson is healthy, and forwards Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Brayden Point are among those making big contributions. And goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the NHL with 12 wins in 14 games. He's been a workhorse and has been very good. Even on nights when he hasn't, the offense has picked him up.
I don't really see any weaknesses with them. On defense, rookie Mikael Sergachev does a lot of things that Victor Hedman has done for them. I picked Hedman to be the Norris Trophy winner, so to see Sergachev playing like him says a lot.
Video: TBL@LAK: Stamkos nets Killorn's feed for PPG
St. Louis Blues
I think coach Mike Yeo has changed his approach and grown as a coach. It's been great for him and great for the Blues. He's always been a defensive coach but has helped their offensive game as well. They have been a different team since he replaced Ken Hitchcock last season.
Goaltender Jake Allen is the undisputed No. 1 and has been spectacular at times this season, but we can't forget about backup Carter Hutton, who made 27 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday. Having two goalies capable of winning on any given night is a big plus.
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is among the early leaders in the Norris Trophy race. His seven goals lead NHL defensemen and his 16 points are tied for first with Kevin Shattenkirk of the New York Rangers. The Blues also have three forwards in the top 10 in the NHL in scoring: Jaden Schwartz is tied for fourth with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists), Vladimir Tarasenko is tied for seventh with 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) and Brayden Schenn is tied for 10th with 19 points (four goals, 15 assists). Each of them is a plus-14 or better.
Prior to losing 3-0 to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, the Canadiens had looked better, winning three straight games and five of six (5-1-0) following a 2-7-1 start to the season.
Goaltender Carey Price has missed the past four games because of a lower-body injury, but prior to that wasn't playing well. Charlie Lindgren has been good since coming up from Laval of the American Hockey League; he allowed two goals on 69 shots in winning his first two games this season, and he had 32 saves against the Wild. Goaltending coach Stephane Waite told me he's liked Lindgren since the Canadiens signed him as an undrafted free agent out of St. Cloud State University on March 30, 2016. He's not Price, but he is trying to compete for an NHL job and has shown he can be a go-to guy.
Forward Brendan Gallagher leads them with 12 points (seven goals, five assists) and he's one of five players with at least 10 points. That includes forward Jonathan Drouin (11 points) and defenseman Shea Weber (11 points), neither of whom played against the Wild because of injury.
The Canadiens ignored the outside noise and have used this mini run to put one of the worst starts in franchise history behind them.
Video: MTL@MIN: Gallagher beats Dubnyk on the backhand
New York Rangers
The Rangers are far from being as complete as they want to be, but they've turned it around by scoring, winning five straight games after starting the season 3-7-2. They have 22 goals in the five games, an average of 4.40 goals per game; they had 34 goals in their first 12 games (2.83 goals per game).
Their speed game is back, led by forward Michael Grabner. They've had more breakaways and offensive chances because of their speed, which has led to more goals and more wins as a result.
A lot of players have been better during this stretch. Shattenkirk gives them the natural offensive-minded defenseman that they haven't had in a long time. He can block shots, deliver hits and play physical, but his value isn't being a shutdown guy. It's to bring offense, which he has done with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 17 games.
Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider are three forwards who have stepped up offensively this season. Forward Jimmy Vesey, who had two goals in his first 16 games, scored twice in 29 seconds in a 4-2 win against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. The Rangers' offense has looked like we are accustomed to it looking, and it's why they've been hot lately.