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 will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
The Philadelphia Flyers are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games and coming off a big 4-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings to pull within one point of Detroit for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Flyers also have two games in hand. They've been playing playoff hockey for the past month and continue their climb up the standings.
The Chicago Blackhawks have lost three straight and are in third place in the Central Division, three points behind the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues with a game in hand on each. They have been outscored by the Blues, Stars and Los Angeles Kings 13-4 in the past three games.
These teams are going in opposite directions, but it should be a good one when the Flyers (33-23-12) visit the Blackhawks (41-23-6) at United Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, TVA Sports). Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: The Flyers outshot the Red Wings 23-3 in the first period on Tuesday. This was their biggest game up to this point in the season and they came out firing. The intensity they showed likely will carry over since every game is a must-win for them.
Rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere hasn't slowed down at all. He's in the Calder Trophy race and has boosted the entire team. Like Tyson Barrie with the Colorado Avalanche, the Flyers aren't restricting his game and ability to create, and it has benefitted them greatly.
Then there are the old reliables in Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, and the emergence of Brayden Schenn (23 goals). But they've also received scoring from some secondary players like Michael Raffl (two goals on Tuesday) and Ryan White, who has been a pleasant surprise.
Video: PHI@FLA: Gostisbehere beats Luongo to tie it late
Minuses: The Flyers have defensive prospects but they aren't deep enough right now. Behind Gostisbehere and Mark Streit, they are pretty thin. The loss of Michael Del Zotto earlier in the season hurts.
The challenge with them is sometimes they have a tendency to default into the Broad Street Bullies, and that is something that they don't need right now and it's something that they can't afford to do right now. They are playing disciplined, smart and responsible, which has coincided with their recent run of success.
Pluses: They still have so much talent with Patrick Kane and his line, even though he doesn't have a point in three games for the first time this season. The fact Chicago players are responsible on both sides of the puck and are as skilled as their players are means they will likely shake this slump soon.
The additions of Andrew Ladd, Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise gave them more forward depth, which can only be a good thing for one of the deepest teams in the NHL.
Corey Crawford is in the Vezina Trophy conversation even though he isn't getting as much notoriety as some other goalies. He is capable of stealing a game on any night.
Playing at home is also huge for them; the Blackhawks are 24-9-2 at United Center, where they have always seemed to rise to the occasion in recent years.
Minuses: It's a bit of a market correction right now. The Blackhawks are struggling in their game with three straight losses. Crawford is having a great year but he hasn't been great and the players in front of him haven't been good, either.
Defensively they have been a little bit sloppy lately. We saw that in the losses against the Stars and Kings, allowing five goals in each. And their penalty kill still hasn't been good: It's under 80 percent on the season.
It's also been a process to work in some guys on their back end. They have Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson, but they have experimented with the bottom pair a lot this season.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Which team is more desperate? The Flyers are fighting for their playoff lives. The Blackhawks are looking to get back on track.
2. Can the Flyers' power play exploit the Blackhawks' penalty kill? The Flyers' power play ranks 13th; the Blackhawks' penalty killing is 25th.
3. What will Flyers coach Dave Hakstol do in terms of matchups? Joel Quenneville is a great coach, but isn't huge on matchups.