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.
It’s been a rough go recently for the Anaheim Ducks, who have lost a team-record nine straight games (0-6-3). They have been outscored 29-12 in the losing streak, and this season rank 30th in goals scored (102). They have three players with double-digit goals and no one with more than 29 points.
Forward Ryan Getzlaf has gone nine straight games without scoring a point, the longest stretch of his career. Forward Rickard Rakell, who had more than 30 goals in each of the past two seasons, has five goals in 33 games. I don’t think anyone expected Ondrej Kase and Pontus Aberg to be tied with Jakob Silfverberg for the team lead in goals 44 games into the season.
Somehow, Anaheim (19-17-8) is one point out of the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. A lot of that has to do with goalie John Gibson (2.62 goals-against average, .923 save percentage); the Ducks would be much lower in the standings if not for him.
The spotlight was put on forwards Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn when their play was criticized by team president Jim Lites on Dec. 29. Benn leads the Stars in goals with 18 and Seguin leads them with 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists). Seguin has been an elite player and has played well since signing an 8-year, $78 million contract on Sept. 13. I haven’t seen a dip in his production.
Defenseman Miro Heiskanen deservedly made the roster for the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game. I don’t think he’s getting as much attention as other rookies, but he developed in Finland after being selected No. 3 by the Stars in the 2017 NHL Draft and has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 45 games this season. One player who has benefited from Heiskanen’s play is goalie Ben Bishop. His 2.36 GAA and .923 save percentage are a product of the defense playing better in front of him than it has in previous years.
Tampa Bay Lightning
It’s come to the point where we’ve almost run out of words to use to describe how good they are. The Lightning are 34-8-2 and with 70 points, 10 more than the next closest team in the NHL standings, the Calgary Flames.
Nikita Kucherov has 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) in 44 games and is on pace for 134 points. Forwards Steven Stamkos (23 goals) and Brayden Point (28) have paced the offense with Kucherov and defensemen Victor Hedman (27 points) and Ryan McDonagh (24 points) have each chipped in offensively.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is 18-4-0 with a .925 save percentage and 2.49 GAA. Coach Jon Cooper has the Lightning competing for the Cup yet again and I think this is the year they get it done.
Congratulations to my former coach, John Tortorella, for reaching 600 NHL wins. He is the 19th person and first United States-born coach to do it. It was only fitting the milestone win for the Blue Jackets coach came against Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette, who is second among United States-born coaches with 598.
Tortorella is one of the best coaches in the game, even if his outspoken style may not be for everyone. He’s a two-time Jack Adams Award winner as coach of the year and has the Blue Jackets (25-15-3) five points behind the first-place Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are back. Goalie Matt Murray has been playing like a Vezina Trophy candidate since returning on Dec. 15 from a lower-body injury and defenseman Kris Letang is a Norris finalist in my opinion. They will be a scary team the rest of the season and in the playoffs.
Mathew Barzal is worth the price of admission. He’s definitely made it easier for New York Islanders fans to forget John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason. Not many believed the Islanders would be competing for a playoff spot this season, but they have been and Barzal, who has 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists), and coach Barry Trotz are big reasons why.