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NHL Star Power Index: Canadiens’ Nick Suzuki enjoying career year, Mathew Barzal thriving for Islanders

Welcome to the NHL Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are controlling substantial buzz around the league. When a player is included on this list it may not be a good thing — it means that they are capturing a large amount of the hockey world’s attention.

These players are in no particular order when it comes to the amount of buzz that they’re creating. We’ll revisit the Star Power Index every week throughout the regular season.

Nick Suzuki has been on fire since the NHL returned from its All-Star break earlier this month.

The Montreal Canadiens center has racked up six goals and three assists in four games since the All-Star break. Suzuki is also currently on a eight-game point streak dating back to Jan. 20. He has scored a goal in five of those contests, including a two-goal performance against the Washington Capitals on Feb. 6 and the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday.

Suzuki registered a goal in the Canadiens’ 7-2 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. Early in the game, the Canadiens star did his best to keep his team in the game.

At the 10:23 mark of the opening period, Canadiens defenseman Mike Matheson got the puck over to teammate Juraj Slafkovsky in the face-off circle. Slafkovsky then set up Suzuki with a picture perfect cross-ice path that Suzuki one-timed from the opposite face-off circle for the goal. Suzuki’s tally cut the Blues’ advantage to 2-1 at the time.

Suzuki has factored into six of the Canadiens’ 12 goals over their last four games. 

The Montreal center is currently on pace for 79 points (29 goals, 50 assists) for the 2023-24 season. It would topple Suzuki’s previous career-high of 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists) that he achieved in 2022-23.

Suzuki was traded by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Max Pacioretty deal back in 2018, but has really carved out a strong career since arriving in Montreal. After combining for 28 goals in his first two professional seasons, the talented center has really elevated his play with 20-goal seasons in each of his last two campaigns, and will likely have another one in 2023-24.

As the Canadiens continue to rebuild their roster, Suzuki has certainly been one of the largest bright spots this season.

The New York Islanders made a huge splash in January when the team parted ways with head coach Lane Lambert and replaced him with Hall of Famer Patrick Roy. While it’s only been a few weeks, it’s been evident Roy’s presence has already been impactful, including on the play of star center Mathew Barzal.

Since Roy took over behind the bench on Jan. 20, Barzal has been playing some of his best hockey of the 2023-24 season. 

Barzal has tallied three goals and seven assists during that stretch. It’s also worth noting the All-Star center has registered a point in seven of the eight games that he’s played under Roy.

“Overall, my play is the best it’s been in my career,” Barzal said during the All-Star break. “Our power play is clicking now, so that’s an extra 10 to 15 points a year. But I think the last five or six games have been some of the best of my career, and I’m looking to build off of that into the second half.”

Barzal recently registered a goal and an assist in a 6-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 8. 

At the 14:07 mark of the opening period, Islanders center Bo Horvat won the opening face-off, and the puck ended up squirting free following the draw. Horvat was able to gain control of the puck, and flipped it over to Barzal near the front of the net. Barzal was able to corral the puck and flipped a backhanded shot past Lightning goaltender Jonas Johansson.

In the second period, Barzal got onto the scoring sheet yet again as he set up one of his teammates on a goal. Horvat dumped the puck down to Barzal toward the bottom of the face-off circle, and Barzal stick-handled his way up toward the point. Once he got some room to operate, Barzal dished the puck over to Horvat in the slot for a one-timer that Horvat didn’t miss.

The goal gave the Islanders a commanding 5-2 lead, and they never looked back.

After registering 85 points (22 goals, 63 assists) as a rookie in 2017-18, Barzal has hovered around the 50-60-point plateau over the past five seasons. However, Barzal is currently on pace for 88 points (24 goals, 64 assists) in 2023-24, which would shatter his previous career-high.

Barzal has established himself as one of the top playmakers the NHL has to offer, and he clearly has benefitted from Roy’s tutelage.  

Victor Hedman has served as the standard among NHL defensemen over the last decade. Even at 33 years old, Hedman is still producing at an impressive rate this season.

Hedman has tallied at least a point in five of his last seven games, including registering an assist in two of his last three contests. In fact, the Tampa Bay Lightning captain has recorded seven assists in his last seven games.

In the Lightning’s 4-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, Hedman assisted on one of the team’s very important goals.

Shortly after the Lightning began a power play, star forward Brandon Hagel brought the puck into the offensive zone, and Tampa Bay got set up. After receiving a pass from teammate Nikita Kucherov, Hedman quickly tapped the puck over to star center Steven Stamkos in the face-off circle for a massive one-timer. Stamkos ripped the one-timer past Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, who just couldn’t get over to the far post in time to make the stop.

Hedman is currently on pace for 82 points (14 goals, 68 assists) this season. That would mark only the second time the Swedish blue-liner has registered an 80-point campaign in his entire career. Hedman’s current career-best came when he tallied 85 points (20 goals, 65 assists) during the 2021-22 season.

The Lightning star may not be an elite goal scorer at this stage of his career, but he’s still a phenomenal playmaker when it comes to setting up his teammates. If the Lightning want to make another Stanley Cup run, Hedman is going to have to continue to be an offensive threat.

After a lackluster 2022-23 season, Jacob Markstrom has looked dominant at times in his crease.

The Calgary Flames goaltender registered a 2.92 goals-against-average and a .892 save percentage in 59 games throughout the 2022-23 campaign. Fast forward to post-All-Star break this season, and Markstrom is looking like his dominant shelf.

Markstrom currently owns a 17-14-2 record, a 2.50 goals-against-average and a .916 save percentage in 33 games thus far in 2023-24. The veteran netminder had won four consecutive starts prior to falling in a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers in his most recent outing.

Markstrom has racked up a 3-1-0 record to go along with a 1.76 goals-against-average and a mind-boggling .945 save percentage over his four February starts. 

The 34-year-old has surrendered two or fewer goals in four of his last five contests. Markstrom also turned aside 34 of the 36 shots he faced in a 5-2 win against the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Markstrom has really been a steady force for a Flames that is just three points outside of the playoff picture. If the Calgary goalie can continue to play at anywhere near this sensational level, the Flames can certainly earn a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference when the regular season draws to a close — if they decide not to move him at the trade deadline.

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