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.
The New York Rangers lead the Pittsburgh Penguins by two points for second place in the Metropolitan Division, and the Boston Bruins trail the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning by three points for the Atlantic Division lead. Each team needs points in order to get closer to clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers have made the Eastern Conference Final in each of the past two seasons; the Bruins missed the playoffs last season after making it in each of the previous seven seasons.
The Bruins (39-26-8) visit the Rangers (41-24-8) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1). Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: They played well Monday and got a big victory on home ice, 4-2 against the Florida Panthers, following a tough California road trip in which they lost two of three. Usually the first game back is one the coaches worry about, but they played well. They are 24-8-3 at home, and are a different team at the Garden than on the road, a more intense team. Including this game, they play six of their final nine games at the Garden.
I know that coach Alain Vigneault has been a little bit public about them wanting to remake and reshape the fourth line. But you look at Viktor Stalberg, Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass, and they combined for two goals on Monday. So the Rangers have four lines that can play and contribute. There is something to be said for that depth on four lines.
Video: FLA@NYR: Stalberg slips it past Montoya
Minuses: The Rangers still allow a lot of traffic and congestion; not only shots and chances but also chances in succession against Henrik Lundqvist. They need to do a better job of boxing out around him. A lot of opposing teams are taking free shots at him.
They need to maintain some consistency. They are a Stanley Cup contender and a contender in the Eastern Conference, but need to build on their win Monday. I know they have a good record overall, but the consistency in their team could be better; I know that from speaking to some players and members of the staff.
Eric Staal needs to be better. I played with him in Carolina and I know all the good things that he is capable of doing; the Rangers need him to do those things. I know he plays center, but the Rangers have Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan as the No. 1 and No. 2 centers, and I don't think he will overtake either. Maybe Staal should be moved up to the second line to play left wing, where he has played before, just to give them a little bit of a different look. Maybe it will spark them. They need offense out of him (one goal, three points in 11 games with the Rangers). You have to give general manager Jeff Gorton a lot of credit for making that trade because it was a good message to the group and addresses a need.
Pluses: They have two elite centers in David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, which gives them a huge advantage against most opponents. Those guys are No. 1 centers on most teams in the League. Bergeron leads the team in points (61) and is second in goals (28); Krejci has 54 points. Each also excels in the faceoff circle.
Brad Marchand already has a career-high 34 goals and is one away from tying his career high in points. Loui Eriksson, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season, wasn't moved by the Bruins before the NHL Trade Deadline and continues to be an important part of their team. He has 27 goals.
The Bruins are a younger, faster team this season and play quicker with more speed than they did a year ago. That's helped to generate some more offensive chances. Boston is well ahead of where many people thought it was going to be, including myself. The Bruins play extremely well on the road; they are 23-10-3 away from TD Garden.
Video: BOS@TBL: Marchand tips home Bergeron's feed for win
Minuses: The Bruins have had a good year in what some considered a rebuilding season, but they've been inconsistent. They haven't won three straight games in more than two months. Boston is coming off an 0-3-0 California swing in which it scored three goals, which isn't good considering the Bruins potentially have three 30-goal scorers this season in Marchand, Bergeron and Eriksson.
The Bruins need to get some more offensive production from guys lower down in the lineup. Maybe Frank Vatrano, who has spent time with the Bruins this season, will be in the lineup. He was called up by Boston on Tuesday and is the American Hockey League's leading scorer with 33 goals in 33 games.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. How do the Rangers dictate the first period? Do they come out and attack early, and if so, what does it look like?
2. What happens in the center-ice matchup since the Bruins have Krejci and Bergeron? Does coach Claude Julien give them some extra minutes?
3. Can Rick Nash get on the scoreboard again? Nash scored on Monday and when he imposes his will, he can create a lot of free ice for himself and generate chances. Nash missed practice Tuesday for what the Rangers called a maintenance day, but he is expected to play.