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.
Don’t look now, but the Stars have won seven of eight (7-1-0 after a 1-7-1 start). They’ve allowed one goal in six of the seven victories. The defense has clamped down and the offense has picked up. Dallas is playing more like the team we thought it was after coming into the season with such high expectations.
Center Tyler Seguin (11 points; three goals, eight assists) and forwards Alexander Radulov (10 points; five goals, five assists) and Roope Hintz (11 points; nine goals, two assists), who’s out with a lower-body injury, have been great for them. Even with forward Jamie Benn struggling (six points; one goal, five assists in 17 games), they’ve managed to get offense from other places. And Ben Bishop (5-5-1, 2.22 goals-against average, .928 save percentage) and Anton Khudobin (3-3-0, 2.33 GAA, .919 save percentage) have been rock solid in net.
It will be tough without defenseman John Klingberg, who will be out 2-4 weeks with a lower-body injury, but he hadn’t been playing his best. Esa Lindell is very underrated and Miro Heiskanen is an all-star. I think the time off will allow Klingberg to heal up and return and reset his game.
Their goaltending tandem has been great. Mike Smith (5-4-1, 2.22 GAA, .926 save percentage) made 51 saves in the Oilers’ 2-1 overtime win at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and looked outstanding. Mikko Koskinen is 5-1-1 with a 2.46 GAA and .917 save percentage.
Forward Leon Draisaitl (29 points; 13 goals, 16 assists), center Connor McDavid (26 points; eight goals, 18 assists) and forward James Neal (13 points, 11 goals, two assists) have combined for 68 points. The rest of the team has combined for 59 points. It’s not usually a good thing when you see that much disparity, but Edmonton has managed to make it work.
Coach Dave Tippett has done an outstanding job, especially on special teams. The Oilers are second in the NHL on the power play (27.1 percent) and tied for 12th on the penalty kill (83.3 percent). Last season, they were ninth on the power play (21.2 percent) and 30th on the penalty kill (74.8 percent).
New York Islanders
Despite their 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, they still have an 11-game point streak (10-0-1). It’s because of great management, great coaching and the buy-in from the players.
Barry Trotz has turned this team around since he took over last season. Many didn’t think the Islanders would be contenders this season after not doing much in the offseason, but they rank first in the League in goals-against per game (2.27) and their penalty kill is ranked seventh (86.0 percent).
The fourth line has been great; Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas each scored a goal on Thursday. And the goalie tandem has been the best in the League with Thomas Greiss (6-1-0, 2.00 GAA, .937 save percentage) and Semyon Varlamov (5-2-1, 2.37 GAA, .924 save percentage).
The Flames were the top team in the Western Conference last season before an early playoff exit against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round. They got off to a slow start this season but have gone 4-1-0 in their past five games to right the ship.
The offensive depth is impressive. When you have forwards Johnny Gaudreau (17 points; five goals, 12 assists), Matthew Tkachuk (18 points; nine goals, nine assists) and Elias Lindholm (17 points; 10 goals, seven assists) and center Sean Monahan (16 points; four goals, 12 assists), you’ll outscore opponents more often than not. And they have 2018-19 Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano, who has 12 points (four goals, eight assists).
Lastly, goalie David Rittich has taken on an expanded workload and hasn’t seen his game dip. He has made 15 starts already this season (9-4-2, 2.74 GAA, .915 save percentage) after starting 42 games last season when he was 27-9-5. Veteran Cam Talbot is a solid backup.
Though the Vancouver Canucks’ eight-game point streak (5-0-3) ended with a 5-2 loss at the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, it’s nice to see them having success. The likes of center Elias Pettersson (21 points; six goals, 15 assists) and forward Brock Boeser (16 points; seven goals, nine assists) up front and defenseman Quinn Hughes (11 points; two goals, nine assists) on the back end will propel this organization for years to come, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they made the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.
I talked about them last week, but the Washington Capitals are 9-0-1 in their past 10 games and improved to an NHL-best 8-1-1 on the road with a 5-4 overtime win at the Florida Panthers on Thursday. They are the perfect blend between old school and new school with power skilled players like forwards Alex Ovechkin (22 points; 13 goals, nine assists) and T.J. Oshie (12 points; eight goals, four assists), center Evgeny Kuznetsov (14 points; five goals, nine assists) and defenseman John Carlson (26 points; eight goals, 18 assists). Plus, we know the type of game forward Tom Wilson (14 points; seven goals, seven assists) plays. All in all, it looks like they’re on their way to another Stanley Cup run.