Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game in his Weekes on the Web blog. Weekes also will assist fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
Two weeks into the season, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers are heading in opposite directions. The Rangers have won four of six games, and their two losses have been by one goal. They've had good goaltending, solid defensive play and offensive contributions from up and down their lineup.
The Bruins began the season with three wins in four games but have lost their past two, both at home, by a combined score of 9-2. They also are without their top two goalies, Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, which doesn't help matters.
The Bruins (3-3-0) look to turn it around when they start a four game road trip against the Rangers (4-2-0) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV). Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: We have to talk about the emergence of Brad Marchand as an NHL star. He scored the championship-winning goal for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and has nine points in six games this season, including a five-point, plus-5 performance in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 13.
Center Patrice Bergeron, as good of a two-way player as we have in the League, has played three games, and his impact on the Bruins can't be undersold. He and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks are one and the same. You look at the resumes, and the position they play, those guys are both plus guys. The Bruins' top line of Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak (four goals, seven points) have been dominant.
Their young players are coming in nicely right now, especially defenseman Brandon Carlo, 19, who has stepped up to play big minutes on the top pair.
Video: NJD@BOS: Bergeron beats Schneider for a late lead
Minuses: It was a down season in 2015-16 for Rask. He was off to a great start but has been out because of an injury. Khudobin is expected to miss three weeks because of an upper-body injury, meaning Malcolm Subban has a chance right now. Subban made his second NHL start Tuesday but was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals on 16 shots in a 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild. The Bruins' fourth goalie, rookie Zane McIntyre, replaced him and allowed two goals on 17 shots. Despite the poor showing, Subban hopes he can step in and maybe open some eyes that he can play at this level.
The injury to center David Krejci also could be bad news for the Bruins, depending on how long he is out. He was hit in the face by a skate Tuesday, left the game and didn't return.
Pluses: Team speed has been a plus through the first two weeks of the season. It's much better than last season. When they made the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, their speed was a big reason why. Carl Hagelin had a big hand in that, but the Rangers have done well this season in part because of additions like Michael Grabner and Jimmy Vesey.
Grabner has two goals, Vesey has three goals, Brandon Pirri has four points and Mika Zibanejad has six points. And rookie forward Pavel Buchnevich, who has skill but has been out because of back spasms, has been very beneficial. And forward Josh Jooris scored his first with the Rangers against the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday. They've all helped push the pace as well.
Another thing we've seen so far, which hasn't always been the case for New York, is that it has done a much better job of playing without the puck and breaking out of its zone. More stretch passes, direct or indirect with use of the boards, and more attacks off the rush. The forwards have done a better job of coming back and being available to the defensemen as well. I noticed that they haven't been getting pinned down in their zone for long stretches so far.
Video: NYR@WSH: Vesey goes five-hole for second of the game
Minuses: One thing to continue watching is the performance of the defensemen. They have a lot of players who were banged up last season, including captain Ryan McDonagh, who has looked amazing so far. Kevin Klein has battled some injuries but has provided good support for them. Dan Girardi, who just got back in the lineup after missing three games because of a groin injury, scored the winner against the Coyotes. So let's continue to keep an eye on them since they play tons of minutes and underperformed last season.
Three things to watch
1. Bruins goalie situation. McIntyre will make his first NHL start. How will he fare?
2. Can the Rangers use their speed to take advantage of the Bruins?
3. The Hayes Bowl. Forwards and brothers Jimmy Hayes of the Bruins and Kevin Hayes of the Rangers face off. Kevin got into shape during the summer and so far it's paid off since he's been very good early on.