Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks, NHL 3 Stars: 2017 Starts With A Bang

By George Clifford
Jan 8, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) is congratulated for scoring by right wing Patrick Kane (88) during the first period against the Nashville Predators at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 8, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) is congratulated for scoring by right wing Patrick Kane (88) during the first period against the Nashville Predators at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /
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Jan 7, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; New York Rangers right wing Michael Grabner (40) lifts the puck over Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Curtis McElhinney (30) for the game winning goal during the third period at Nationwide Arena. The Rangers defeated the Blue Jackets 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; New York Rangers right wing Michael Grabner (40) lifts the puck over Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Curtis McElhinney (30) for the game winning goal during the third period at Nationwide Arena. The Rangers defeated the Blue Jackets 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports /

Eastern Conference 3 Stars

Third star: Toronto F James van Riemsdyk. With one goal and seven assists over four games, van Riemsdyk notched two points more than any other player in the NHL last week. His five powerplay points also led the league as the Maple Leafs are fighting to stay within striking distance of an Eastern Conference wild-card slot.

Producing three multi-point performances last week, van Riemsdyk has 33 points on the season.

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Second star: Toronto C Auston Matthews. Matthews started 2017 with a bang, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to send Toronto past Detroit 5-4 in the Centennial Classic. The legitimate Calder Trophy candidate also notched the game-winner Friday night against New Jersey for his fourth GWG of the season.

Matthews posted two multi-point games last week, and his 21 goals on the season is good for second in the Eastern Conference.

First star: New York Rangers F Michael Grabner. Speed reigns supreme in the NHL these days, but Grabner skates in a class by himself. With a stunning display of speed and talent in consecutive wins over Philadelphia and Columbus last week, Grabner put up two goals and an assist in each game.

His game-winner Saturday night against the Blue Jackets with 16.5 seconds remaining in the third period sent NHL Network commentator Kevin Weekes into an on-air frenzy — after intercepting a pass inside the Rangers’ blue line, Grabner blew past two defenders and made a fool of goalie Curtis McElhinney. You have to see it to appreciate the speed he generates. Wow!

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