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.
Ducks are surging
I talked to Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau this week. He said the key to his team's turnaround is a commitment to defending, which is accurate because they had the best penalty- killing in the League early on. I've said this earlier and I'll say it again: They have the best 1-2 tandem of young goaltenders. John Gibson and Frederik Andersen each has the ability to be a franchise cornerstone.
The Ducks are scoring now: They have 46 goals in their past 11 games after being the NHL's lowest-scoring team for a good portion of the season.
Earlier in the season, Corey Perry wasn't dominant and Ryan Getzlaf wasn't himself after the appendectomy. Each is playing better. The Ducks are also have getting some depth scoring (Rickard Rakell) and offensive production from their defense (Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm).
California hockey is alive and well right now. The Ducks are two points behind the Los Angeles Kings for first place in the Pacific Division, and the San Jose Sharks are one point behind the Ducks.
They've had a little bit of a tough season, including some key injuries, and haven't been consistent. Calgary won 11 straight at home earlier in the season but hasn't been the same since. The Dennis Wideman incident with linesman Don Henderson was frustrating. There's no place for that in the game. It was a bad mistake and doesn't come at a good time; not that there's ever a good time. But being without Wideman for 20 games will hurt.
Will the Flames be able to retain defenseman Kris Russell, the League leader in blocked shots last season, or will they ship him at the NHL Trade Deadline? Will they get a goalie to replace injured Karri Ramo, who's out for the season? Perhaps they'll try for Andersen (although he's a division rival) or Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes (an Alberta native) so they have a chance to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It will be interesting, because their goaltending hasn't been at the high level it should be.
When you are around this group, you see a lot of things that are special about them. They had a great win against the New York Rangers on Wednesday, coming back in the third period, and enjoyed the day Thursday at the White House to celebrate their 2015 Stanley Cup championship. It's a unique group. The level of focus, detail and professionalism is second to none
A couple of games ago, they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-2, with different players contributing offensively and still had 21 blocked shots. They are the apple of the NHL right now. I wouldn't be surprised if they added a piece, perhaps forward Andrew Ladd of the Winnipeg Jets, a former Blackhawk who won the Cup with them in 2010 and is can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He plays in all situations and could help them, like Antoine Vermette did last season.
The Stars have defeated some really good teams; they had consecutive victories against the Blackhawks and Washington Capitals during a four-game winning streak. When they have been leading after two periods, they have been able to close out games. Scoring hasn't been the problem, nor has the power play: It's been the penalty kill and lack of depth defensively.
They are looking for a defenseman that can help their penalty kill, which still needs work. Could a guy like Russell be a fit there? I'd expect them to acquire someone at the trade deadline.
Of course they are led by Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin up front, and defenseman John Klingberg has emerged offensively in his second season. But they've also gotten contributions from goaltenders Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, who don't have to be on their "A" game every night in order for the Stars to win because of all that offensive talent.
Everyone is frustrated within the Montreal Canadiens locker room. Expectations in Montreal are sky-high, and I don't see goaltender Carey Price returning from injury this season. If he doesn't come back, the likelihood of them making the playoffs is not good. After the start they had this season, nobody saw this coming.
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (second in points per game behind Chicago's Patrick Kane), has picked up right where he left off when he returned from his injury. He and Jordan Eberle have played extremely well together.
Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins has played like a man possessed. He had a seven-game goal-scoring streak end on Tuesday. I don't think there are many people who can do what Marchand does and have the impact that he does. It's one thing to be a shift-disturber; it's another to make teams pay on the scoreboard.