Each Friday throughout the season Kevin Weekes will bring you his Friday Four. The former goalie and current NHL Network analyst will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
The 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic was nothing short of a huge success. Dallas and the State of Texas did a great job preparing for the game between the Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators. There was certainly lots of green in the stands but plenty of Predators fans were also on hand to help pack Cotton Bowl Stadium with a crowd of 85,630 for the Stars' 4-2 victory. It was the second-highest attended game in NHL history (the 2014 Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium drew 105,491).
After falling behind trailing 2-0, the Stars played the type of game they need to moving forward; they were physical, got to pucks and did all the things a successful team does. As far as the Predators, they're struggling right now but I think they have what it takes to turn it around and make a run at the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Lastly, I just wanted to say what a great job was done by League executives Beth Conroy and Brian Jennings, who gave their tickets to a family who was at the game but had an obstructed view. That to me really speaks to the people we have at the NHL and how much they care about the fans and the fan experience.
Video: Sights and Sounds from the 2020 NHL Winter Classic
Center Jack Eichel scored on a penalty shot in overtime to lift the Sabres to a 3-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday and continued his amazing season. Eichel has 54 points (26 goals, 28 assists) in 41 games this season and is plus-10. He's three goals from setting an NHL career high and has never been a plus player in four previous seasons.
It will be tough to validate Eichel as a Hart Trophy candidate if Buffalo does not qualify for the playoffs, but he has taken his game to a different level this season; he's on a pace to score 51 goals this season, which would be a 23-goal increase from the 28 he scored last season.
I agree with Sabres coach Ralph Krueger, who said Buffalo still has players who need to buy in to be successful. So there is room for improvement there.
New Jersey Devils
The season obviously hasn't gone the way the Devils wanted or expected it to, after trading for defenseman P.K. Subban and selecting center Jack Hughes No. 1 in the 2019 NHL Draft, in addition to having forward Taylor Hall, a Hart Trophy winner as NHL most valuable player in 2017-18.
But since trading Hall to the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 16, they have found more of an identity. New Jersey, 4-0-1 in its past five games, is playing and competing harder. What I've noticed is the Devils have cleaned up their play in their own end and have been able to clamp down and win close games, having won each of their past three by one goal.
Rookie goalie Mackenzie Blackwood is 14-10-5 with a 2.79 goals-against average and .909 save percentage and could reach 20 wins this season. Rookie forward Nikita Gusev, acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on July 29, has been all over the ice and created tons of offense of late with a five-game point streak (two goals, five assists).
Video: WSH@NJD: Blackwood denies Ovechkin on breakaway shot
Following a thrilling 7-5 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, the Canucks have won six straight and are in third place in the Pacific Division, four points out of first. Center Elias Pettersson had a goal and two assists against the Blackhawks and leads the Canucks with 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists). Forwards J.T. Miller (40 points; 15 goals, 25 assists) and Brock Boeser (39 points; 13 goals, 26 assists) are right behind him.
And then there's rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes. He's up to 29 points (four goals, 25 assists) in 40 games, including 16 points on the power play (three goals, 13 assists) and has been the quarterback for the Vancouver offense. Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar may be the favorite for the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL, but Hughes should be right up there with him, especially if the Canucks qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2014-15.