Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Hockey game in his Weekes on the Web blog.
This week, it's a doubleheader on "Wednesday Night Hockey." First, the Pittsburgh Penguins (21-12-6) visit the New York Rangers (17-14-7) at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN). After that, the Colorado Avalanche (19-13-8) host the San Jose Sharks (21-13-7) at Pepsi Center (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Here's my breakdown of the games:
The Penguins have finally hit their stride with six straight wins. The defense has been great, as they've allowed seven goals during the streak. Defenseman Kris Letang has been healthy all season and has made a big impact. But perhaps the best news is that Matt Murray has been excellent recently; he's 5-0-0 with a 1.38 goals-against average and .959 save percentage in his past five starts.
Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel are on a tear, each has 10 points in the past four games (Crosby: two goals, eight assists; Kessel: three goals, seven assists).
Video: PIT@STL: Murray robs Schwartz with tough glove stop
Although they've won six straight, the Penguins have been too inconsistent for a Cup contender. They haven't strung together good efforts often enough. They are three points out of first in the Metropolitan Division, but a losing streak could change that in a hurry.
Taking away Crosby, Kessel, Evgeni Malkin (40 points) and Jake Guentzel (34 points), they need more production from lower down in the lineup. Patric Hornqvist (22 points) is the only other forward with more than 20 points. You know what you're going to get out of the top players, but others have to contribute.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Rangers, but they have been competitive and looked impressive in a 4-3 win at the Nashville Predators on Saturday and a 2-1 victory at the St. Louis Blues on Monday. Henrik Lundqvist has been a big reason; he made 73 saves combined in those consecutive wins and has kept them in almost every game he's played this season.
Kevin Hayes has played well. He has 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists) in 38 games this season, one behind New York leader Mika Zibanejad, who has 34 points. Hayes can become an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Rangers would be wise to keep him because he's been an integral part of their success in recent seasons.
Video: NYR@TOR: Hayes cashes in on rebound
The Rangers have a lot of players and rookies getting increased ice time, which will happen when you're in a rebuild. Guys like Brett Howden, Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson have shown they have potential, but they have also shown they have plenty of work left to do.
The good news for the Rangers is that this game is at Madison Square Garden, where they are 11-4-5. Despite the two straight wins on the road, they're 6-10-2 away from home. That record has to improve if they are to climb back into Stanley Cup Playoff position.
Timo Meier is having a breakout season with 35 points, one shy of his NHL career high of 36, set last season. Meier scored 21 goals in 81 games last season and has 18 this season in 38 games. He's been a big reason for San Jose's success.
After a slow start to his career with the Sharks, defenseman Erik Karlsson has turned it around. He has one goal and 15 assists during a 10-game point streak, including a goal and three assists in a 7-4 win at the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, and has climbed to seventh in scoring among NHL defensemen with 32 points (three goals, 29 assists).
Video: DAL@SJS: Meier nets pinpoint wrister through traffic
The Sharks need to follow up impressive wins with good efforts. After defeating the Oilers, they lost 8-5 to the Calgary Flames on Monday. They have won more than two consecutive games just twice this season. They have a tough schedule coming up, so consistency will be key.
Neither San Jose goalie, Martin Jones or Aaron Dell, has performed up to his standards. Each has a save percentage under .900 and a goals-against average hovering around 3.00. They've managed to win some games because of the offense, but those are not numbers that will bring very much long-term success.
Forwards Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon are two of the top scorers in the NHL. Rantanen ranks second with 62 points and MacKinnon is third with 59 points. The two with linemate Gabriel Landeskog have been the best offensive line in the League this season.
No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov has struggled, but backup Philipp Grubauer has played well, allowing two goals or fewer in three of his past four starts. That's the kind of play the Avalanche expected from him when they acquired him in a trade from the Washington Capitals this offseason.
Video: CHI@COL: Rantanen nets PPG, Barrie sets club record
Colorado has lost five straight games for the second time this season and has two wins in its past 11 (2-6-3). What worked for the Avalanche early on defensively hasn't worked recently. It's something they'll need to fix soon.
The Avalanche need anyone outside of the big three to score. Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog have combined for 65 goals and 166 points. The rest of the team has combined for 69 goals and 196 points. That's three players accounting for almost half of their goals and points.