NHL: The Friday Five For 1 February

UNSTOPPABLE: Zack Kassian has started the season in Beast Mode playing alongside the Sedins in Vancouver

BY JEFF ANGUS

It is Friday, which means it is time for my weekly NHL roundup. And oh what a week it has been in the NHL…

5. SABRE RATTLING
Buffalo Sabres to Win the Eastern Conference +2500

Do you believe NHL coaches don’t care about retribution? In their 7-4 Thursday night win over Boston, Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff called a time out with 13 seconds to go in the third. This was after Jason Pominville scored the seventh Sabres goal into an empty net. Ruff wanted to make sure the Bruins knew the score – if you remember Boston was the team that smacked around Buffalo physically and on the score sheet last year (culminating with Milan Lucic drilling goaltender Ryan Miller outside of the crease).

Ruff then sent out John Scott and Marcus Foligno for the final few seconds. Boston didn’t pull any goonery. However, winger Brad Marchand called Ruff “disrespectful” for the move. Pot, meet kettle.

Oh, and Tomas Vanek carved up the Boston defense with a hat trick and two assists as well:

4. LEAF BUDS
Toronto Maple Leafs to Win Northeast Division +1400 

Toronto is getting a lot of production from the duo of Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin right now. Kadri looks great in 2013 – easily the most comfortable he has been in the NHL. And Frattin, who looked pretty solid last year (with almost no production to show for it), is finding ways to contribute offensively almost every game. Frattin is a fantastic skater and he loves going to the net, and Kadri is proving to be quite adept at finding him with passes.

Kadri on the chemistry they have together:

“We’ve been playing together for a couple of years now. We’re able to form some chemistry. We have offensive minds and are learning to become more responsible with Randy increasing our minutes game by game.

“It shows a lot of faith and belief in us and gives us more confidence.”

It is easy to see why the Canucks wanted Kadri back as a part of any Roberto Luongo trade. He isn’t the fastest skater, but he plays with an edge, works hard defensively (he still has a lot of learning to do there though), and is a magician with the puck on his stick.

3. THE KID HALL
Edmonton Oilers to Win Northwest Division +340

Who are the best NHL players at beating defensemen one-on-one? I’d say Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk are probably the top two, and they do it in very different ways. I’d like to add another name to that list – Taylor Hall. The dynamic left winger can beat defensemen in so many ways – with his incredible acceleration, his powerful skating, or his stickhandling ability. Hall looks much more comfortable this season now that he is playing with a fully healthy shoulder, and he is using his entire offensive arsenal to keep opposing defensemen on their toes.

2. KASSIAN CASHING IN
Chicago Blackhawks at Vancouver Canucks (-150, 5.5)

Zack Kassian has been the most impressive and most consistent Canuck player through the first seven games this season. A big reason for that was all of the hard work he put in last summer. Kassian split time training in Vancouver with the Sedin twins, in Windsor with his trainer Dave Orton, and in Oregon at the Nike Headquarters, where he and several other young Canucks (including Chris Tanev) got to work with some of the best sports trainers in the world.

The Sedins invited Kassian to train with them last June. Why? They saw the potential he possessed, and wanted to help him reach it.

“Both me and Danny just had a good feeling about him,” Henrik said. “He’s been through some tough things in the past. But meeting him last year and seeing him and being around him, we started to like him as a guy and a player. I’ve never been traded, but talking to a lot of players who have been traded, it’s tough. And in Zack’s situation, where he gets traded for Cody, there’s so much expectations and that’s tough for him, too.”

Others in the organization (including Stan Smyl) have also had a very positive impact on Kassian over the past year or so. Vancouver really wants to get the most out of him, and you can see why with his early season dominance at the age of 22.

You will also notice that teams don’t poke and prod the Sedins as much after the whistles any more when Kassian is on the ice with them.

And bettors have been happy too, two times this week PlayNow Sports offered a special of Kassian to score and Canucks to win, which paid out $3,500!

1. OILERS GOALTENDING
Edmonton Oilers to Win the Stanley Cup +1900

Not that there was going to be much of a debate this season, but Edmonton goaltender Devan Dubnyk has firmly cemented his spot as the starting goaltender. Dubnyk has played all but 40 minutes of Edmonton’s games this season, and he has impressive numbers to show for it. A .921 save percentage is very good, and Dubnyk has given the young Oilers a chance to win on many nights.

There were some rumours during the lockout that Edmonton had expressed interest in Roberto Luongo, but Dubnyk has quieted those trade winds – for now. The Oilers would love nothing more than for him to emerge as a bona fide starting goaltender. He would be able to grow and develop with the young core, and his reasonable salary cap hit would give GM Steve Tambellini some flexibility when it comes time to re-sign the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz.

I saw quite a bit of Dubnyk during his WHL career with Kamloops, and it is quite remarkable how far he has come. Back then he was pretty much a big guy who could block a lot of shots because of his size. He is much quicker, more athletic, and more technically proficient in the blue paint now. It just goes to show that hard work and coaching can pay huge dividends.