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.
New York Rangers
I've watched the Rangers a lot this season, and at times they look like a top-10 team in the League. They have speed and a Hall of Fame goalie. But on Wednesday, they didn't look desperate at all in a 6-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. They just didn't have any energy after the early part of the first period. The Bruins were playing like the team that needed points.
On Thursday, general manager Jeff Gorton had a press conference and the Rangers released a statement saying they were prepared to get rid of players leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26. Mind you, they are only three points out of a playoff spot, but they're in last place in the Metropolitan Division and have lost four in a row. Ryan McDonagh is their No. 1 defenseman and Michael Grabner and Rick Nash are two of their top scorers. If any or all of those three are traded, they'll will be tough to replace, this season and beyond. It's not very often that we see a team's general manager make this kind of statement; if I'm in that locker room, I don't like that feeling that ownership thinks it's a lost season.
Video: Big changes coming for the Rangers
It's hard not to continue to talk about the Bruins. I think they are the best team in the League, and have been for the past two months. They're 18-1-4 since Dec. 16 and followed up their only regulation loss in that span (3-1 to the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 30) with four straight wins. Tuukka Rask is 19-0-2 in his past 21 starts, and backup Anton Khudobin has played great when called upon. We know how well the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has been.
They are skilled, tough, can play with finesse, and they move the puck across and up the ice better than any team. There aren't any holes right now, and they're within striking distance of the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division. They've shown they can match up against anybody, play all four lines, and win low-scoring games or high-scoring ones. The Bruins definitely aren't a team anyone wants to face right now. Coach Bruce Cassidy has done an excellent job in the year he has been behind the bench.
The Penguins are starting to look like the Penguins again after struggling through the first half of the season. Phil Kessel (65 points; 24 goals, 41 assists) is second in the NHL scoring race; Evgeni Malkin has 11 goals in his past nine games and was named the First Star of the Month in January. Sidney Crosby hasn't scored in nine games, but has assists in eight of those nine.
Pittsburgh is 10-3-0 in its past 13 games and has moved up the standings; the Penguins are second in the Metropolitan Division. Matt Murray has played well since missing time after the death of his father. If he can find his groove, they'll be a scary team. We know how good they have been the past few seasons, winning back-to-back titles, and they seem to turn it up a notch when it matters most.
Video: VGK@PIT: Malkin, Kessel capitalize on two-on-one
The Los Angeles Kings have struggled this season, but Kuemper has stepped in for them with Jonathan Quick injured and has done great.
Kuemper had back-to-back shutouts prior to allowing two goals in a 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday. He's 9-1-3 with a 1.78 goals-against average, .942 save percentage and three shutouts this season. He told me goalie coach Bill Ranford has had a huge impact on his game. Kuemper is the latest in a line of solid backups for the Kings. It was Peter Budaj last season, Jonathan Bernier before that and even Martin Jones, who has flourished with the San Jose Sharks.
Quick has allowed five goals in each of his past two starts and maybe he'll get some more rest with the Kings knowing they are in good hands with Kuemper. Los Angeles looked so good early on, but is now fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. It shows the importance of having a good backup in the League since you never know when and for how long they could be called upon.
The Philadelphia Flyers have rebounded nicely following their 10-game losing streak. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier haven't slowed down all season, and they are a different team with Brian Elliott in net. Watch out for the Flyers.
The Winnipeg Jets are seeing results after missing the playoffs the in back-to-back seasons and five of six since the franchise moved from Atlanta in 2011. They're competing for first place in the Central Division and Western Conference, are scoring goals and are extremely tough to play against at home. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and coach Paul Maurice had a vision with this team over several seasons and were patient.