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Each Friday, NHL Network and ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes will provide readers with three games he is looking forward to that weekend:
Colorado Avalanche at Boston Bruins (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; NESN, ALT, ESPN+, SN NOW)
The Avalanche (13-7-1) defeated the Buffalo Sabres 6-4 on Thursday, a nice bounce-back win after its worst loss of the season, 5-0 at the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. Overall, they’ve performed well, given some key injuries (they’re currently without forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin, centers Darren Helm and Evan Rodrigues and defenseman Bowen Byram). Goalie Alexandar Georgiev (11-3-1, 2.58 goals-against average, .922 save percentage, one shutout) has had a seamless transition after being acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers on July 7. Everyone has seemed to step up for Colorado, which hasn’t had to rely on its stars: center Nathan MacKinnon, forward Mikko Rantanen and defenseman Cale Makar.
The Bruins (19-3-0) are the most complete team in the NHL. They lead the League in goals per game (3.95), goals against per game (2.18), rank second in power-play percentage (30.1 percent) and third in penalty killing percentage (83.5 percent). It’s hard to believe forward Brad Marchand (18 points; seven goals, 11 assists in 14 games) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (10 points; two goals, eight assists in nine games) each missed time following offseason surgery and have returned without a hitch. Their new coach, Jim Montgomery, has molded them into a more offensive team without sacrificing defense. Goalie Linus Ullmark (13-1-0, 2.00 GAA, .935 save percentage, one shutout) has played like a Vezina Trophy and MVP candidate this season.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, BSSUN)
Coming into the season, the Maple Leafs (15-5-5) had question marks in net after not keeping Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek, their tandem from last season. They traded for Matt Murray (5-1-1, 2.44 GAA, .927 save percentage) and signed Ilya Samsonov (7-2-0, 2.09 GAA, .924 save percentage). Forward Mitchell Marner can set the record for longest point streak by a Maple Leafs player (he’s at 18 now, tied with Eddie Olczyk and Darryl Sittler), and Toronto has played well in the absence of three of their top defensemen, Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie and Morgan Rielly.
The Lightning continue to be the Lightning for me. Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos is coming off his best offensive season in the NHL (106 points; 42 goals, 64 assists) and has 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 23 games this season, including scoring his 1,000th career point in a 4-1 win at the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. The Lightning (14-8-1) are 7-2-0 in their past nine games and have turned the corner after a slow start to the season. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (9-7-1, 2.77 GAA, .908 save percentage) continues to be a workhorse who always seems to rise to the occasion. Forward Nikita Kucherov (35 points; 10 goals, 25 assists) and center Brayden Point (24 points; 10 goals, 14 assists) each is healthy, which is scary news for the rest of the League.
Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, BSSW, BSN, BSWI)
Season No. 3 for Kirill Kaprizov has started off the same way as his previous two. The third-year forward is tied for sixth in the NHL with 14 goals and his 30 points rank 12th for the Wild (11-9-2). He and forward Mats Zuccarello (22 points; eight goals, 14 assists) have led Minnesota offensively, though more depth scoring is needed. I also like the addition of forward Ryan Reaves, who can add more grit to their lineup. The Wild are 4-1-0 in their past five games following a 5-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.
The Stars (14-6-4) are led by forward Jason Robertson, who leads the NHL in goals (22) and is second in points (39) in 24 games. The 23-year-old is coming off a hat trick in a 5-0 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday and has a 17-game point streak (32 points; 20 goals, 12 assists) and forms a strong first line with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski. Goalie Jake Oettinger (9-2-3, 2.35 GAA, .923 save percentage, two shutouts) has played very well and defenseman Miro Heiskanen leads them in average time on ice (24:48 per game). Forward Jamie Benn (26 points; 10 goals, 16 assists) and center Tyler Seguin (19 points; four goals, 15 assists) each has had a resurgence, and 19-year-old center Wyatt Johnson (10 points; seven goals, three assists) and 22-year-old forward Ty Dellandrea (13 points; four goals, nine assists) each has helped Dallas reach the top of the Central Division.
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