Each Wednesday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be offering his plusses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game in his Weekes on the Web blog. Weekes will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
It's a Rivalry Night doubleheader Wednesday on NBCSN.
* The Boston Bruins visit the Toronto Maple Leafs in an Original Six, Atlantic Division matchup (8 p.m. ET).
* The Anaheim Ducks host the Los Angeles Kings in a Southern California treat and a Pacific Division matchup (10:30 p.m. ET).
Let's get right to it with one plus and one minus for each team, and three things to watch in each game:
BOSTON at TORONTO
WEDNESDAY NIGHT RIVALRY
Five things to watch in Rivalry games
By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
Phil Kessel and the Maple Leafs will try to slow down the Bruins, and the Kings and Ducks will play for the first time since the 2014 Western Conference Second Round in a Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader. READ MORE ›
Plus: A big plus has been the emergence of Carl Soderberg.
I'll go back to when J.P. Barry, his agent, and the Bruins were trying to bring him to Boston from Sweden. It was so much of a hassle. The Bruins had to do so much. His agent had to do so much. I remember talking to Barry about the Swedish Hockey Federation and getting Soderberg released from his club team there.
But now you can tell why they wanted to get him so badly and paid the price they did to get him out and into Boston. He's repaying the Bruins for the faith they put in him and he's a real unique player in the sense that he's very tall, has a long reach, is rangey with good hands, and can basically play all three forward positions. He's very difficult to defend around the net.
Minus: How long can they sustain their success in the absence of captain Zdeno Chara?
The Bruins are 6-1-0 without Chara, and the good thing is they got Torey Krug back. However, the difficult thing is Chara is such a key part of their team so I don't know how much longer they're going to be able to sustain him being out. I'm not saying it's an impossibility; I just don't know how much longer they can do it. It's a big ask, particularly on their forwards.
Their forwards have no choice but to come back harder into the zone because, frankly, Chara is the equivalent of two-and-a-half men. They have to come back deeper. They have to battle longer. They have to stay committed to staying in their zone longer. And you're not seeing as many stretch plays as a result. Short passes are always good because that means you're playing a close, support game, but one thing the Bruins are missing is that home-run threat.
Plus: James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel are one of the best duos in the NHL.
Say what you want, but that's a dynamic, unselfish duo. They have gotten better and have improved as players. They are both as good as playmakers as they are as finishers. They are tough for the opposition to defend.
Kessel leads the team, as he should, with eight goals, 11 assists and 19 points. Van Riemsdyk has 11 points on six goals and five assists. Toronto needs them to score, and they have delivered.
Minus: The Maple Leafs are prone to turnovers because they don't fully have the commitment from their forwards in the defensive zone. Compare them to Boston and it's night and day.
I just mentioned that the Bruins forwards have to do so much more in the absence of Chara, but it's not just more they have to do, it's how much more they're committed to doing. That's the difference.
For the Maple Leafs, I've seen improvements where their forwards aren't always blowing the zone, but they're nowhere near a Boston or an L.A. for that matter, where that low forward, that low centerman is basically another D on a consistent basis.
Toronto's forwards need to provide better support defensively and on the breakout itself. There are times that they do, but it's inconsistent. There will be times when you watch and see the support, the bump pass with speed, and they come out in transition. But you won't see it on a shift-by-shift basis.
3 THINGS TO WATCH
1. Seth Griffith making plays
We saw the highlight goal against the New Jersey Devils. So keep watching for more from Griffith.
2. The emergency of Reilly Smith
Smith's game is back on point. He's heating up again. He's rediscovering his level.
3. Keep an eye on Mike Santorelli's line
That line has played well. They keep shifting it around with Leo Komarov, David Clarkson and Daniel Winnik. But check that one out, because it's a tough matchup.
LOS ANGELES at ANAHEIM
Plus: There are a couple, but the one main thing about the Kings is that they're not full, they're not complacent. They're still hungry in spite of all they have accomplished. That's so important, and it speaks to the leadership on that team.
All around the dressing room you can sense the accountability, the expectations, and the commitment to excellence. There is no complacency in their group, period.
You don't always see it in results, but you see it in effort and the way they approach the game. They have defined a style of play. You know what an L.A. King plays like. You know what to expect from their team on a nightly basis.
Did people really believe that Marian Gaborik wouldn't be a fit there? He's been awesome there. He had to be or else he wouldn't have lasted there.
|TALE OF THE TAPE: BRUINS-MAPLE LEAFS
|10-6-0 (3rd, Atlantic)
||8-5-2 (5th, Atlantic)
||Head-to-Head Regular-Season Record
||Streak vs. Opponent
|1-0-1 @ Toronto
||Home/Road Streak vs. Opponent
||0-1-0 vs. Bruins
||Stanley Cup Championships
||Hockey Hall of Fame Members
||Most Famous Alumnus
||Hart Trophy Winners
|Fernie Flaman (1945-50; 1954-61)
||Best Player in Common
||Fernie Flaman (1950-54)
Minus: The grind.
They play such a heavy style of hockey. The way they play is so taxing. It goes to show how fit their group is to be able to still play that style despite the travel they have and the long runs that they have gone on.
Eventually that style and the travel and the amount of games can wear on a team. I haven't seen it yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it does. But hey, if that's the biggest problem you have as a group, then you don't really have any problems at all.
Plus: Despite injuries there has been no dip in their goaltending. We know John Gibson is hurt, and Frederik Andersen was out a bit, but for the most part he's been excellent and playing the way they need him to play.
For Andersen in his second season to not have any dips, it's very impressive, especially for a goalie on a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Andersen is very well-respected in the Ducks dressing room. The guys in there like him a lot. They like Gibson a lot too. That's so important for young goaltenders.
Minus: It has to be that Corey Perry is out. They can't replace him.
This will continue to be an opportunity for young players to step up and have a greater opportunity to play an important role. If you're a young player on that team, you can't ask for a better opportunity, but the Ducks absolutely cannot replace Perry.
It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out.
3 THINGS TO WATCH
1. That '70s Line
More to the point, who does Anaheim use to match up against Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson?
2. Kopitar and Gaborik
These two are back playing together, so the question becomes how does Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau match up against them. Really it's twofold, going back to the first thing to watch. It's a pick-your-poison type of thing now. The Kings basically have two No. 1 lines.
3. Sami Vatanen
This young defenseman for the Ducks is so impressive. He has great skill and he's making plays all over the ice. There is no panic in his game and he loves to make plays. Watch this guy.