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.
In a game between two Original Six teams, it's fair to say that neither the Boston Bruins nor the Detroit Red Wings are playing as well as they'd like, or are where they'd like to be a little bit more than halfway through the season.
The Bruins (23-19-5) are in second in the Atlantic Division but one point ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, and are hoping not to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season. The Red Wings (19-19-6) are 14th in the Eastern Conference and have an extremely tough task if they want to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 26th consecutive season.
Boston is coming off a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday. Detroit is looking for its third straight win, something it hasn't done since winning six straight from Oct. 17-27. It should be a good one at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV).
Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: A good thing for the Bruins is forward Brad Marchand is back to scoring for them. He scored two goals and three assists in a 6-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and was named the NHLs Second Star of the Week with four goals and four assists in four games. David Pastrnak has had a really good season but you can make the case that Marchand is Boston's most pivotal offensive player based on his production rate the past few seasons (he's scored at least 21 goals in each of his past five full NHL seasons).
Goalie Tuukka Rask has been really good (22-10-3, 2.03 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, five shutouts). Rask has single-handedly kept them in many games and despite not playing as well recently as he did earlier in the season, he is still in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy.
Rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo has played first-pair minutes and been very calm. He's also helped his partner Zdeno Chara have a resurgence in his game.
And this game is on the road, where the Bruins have played better this season; they are 13-8-5 away from home and 10-11-0 at TD Garden.
Video: PHI@BOS: Rask snags a one-timer from the point
Minuses: As good as Rask has been, the Bruins have relied way too much on him. On Monday, they were unable to score against the Islanders, a game where Rask allowed three goals on 15 shots before getting pulled to start the third period. He wasn't sharp but the Bruins didn't support him either. They also rely on him because they don't have a solution at backup. Anton Khudobin was 1-5-1 before being waived, Zane McIntyre is 0-3-1 and Malcolm Subban lost his only start this season. That's one win and 11 losses in games where Rask hasn't played or figured into the decision. I didn't think they should have let Chad Johnson go after the 2013-14 season, and we see how well he's doing with the Calgary Flames.
Then there is the lack of consistency. The Bruins play some games where it looks like they've turned the corner but then they have a poor effort like Monday. They have three three-game winning streaks but other than that they haven't been able to string many wins together. Boston is tied for 20th in goals (115) and 23rd in power-play percentage (16.4 percent), which also has contributed to the inconsistency.
Pluses: The Red Wings have had three goalies this year, and I always liked the tandem of Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek since last season. With Howard hurt and Mrazek's game dipping, Jared Coreau has stepped in and played well. He's won his past four decisions and has given Detroit a chance to win almost every game he's started.
Forward Thomas Vanek, who Detroit signed on July 1, is playing really good hockey (12-18-30, 33 games) and has points in six straight games and in 10 of 11. Not to mention Anthony Mantha (22 points in 29 games) and Andreas Athanasiou (14 points in 29 games), who the Red Wings are counting on, and the young players have been producing.
Defenseman Mike Green recently missed eight games because of an upper-body injury but he's back in the lineup. He may not be the same player he was with the Washington Capitals but he was a difference maker prior to getting hurt and Detroit doesn't get much production on defense besides Green.
Video: MTL@DET: Vanek nets goal off DeKeyser's big blast
Minuses: The Red Wings probably wish they could play more games on the road because they have not played well on home ice at all. In their final season at the Joe, they're 9-10-3, although they've won their past two games.
They're also not getting enough production and consistency from most players, which is why they come into this game six points behind the Senators for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, putting their quarter-century consecutive playoff streak in jeopardy.
The Red Wings power play has been a real struggle. They're 30th in the League in power-play percentage (11.5) and 29th in power-play goals (17).
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. If Coreau starts, will he continue to play as good as he has thus far?
2. Can the Red Wings finally get their power play going?
3. Will Marchand pick up where he left off last week?