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Weekes on the Web

Pluses, minuses for Avalanche-Penguins, Flyers-Oilers

Colorado, Pittsburgh likely to be high scoring; McDavid, Giroux go head-to-head

by Kevin Weekes @kevinweekes / NHL Network Analyst

Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the "Wednesday Night Hockey" games on NBCSN in his Weekes on the Web blog.

The Colorado Avalanche (5-0-0) seek to remain undefeated when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins (4-2-0) at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

Then the Edmonton Oilers (5-1-0) play the Philadelphia Flyers (2-1-1) at Rogers Place (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN) in what should be a great early-season showdown.

Here's my breakdown of the games:

 

Avalanche

Pluses: They arguably have the best top line in the NHL with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, who have combined for 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in five games. Colorado also has depth at forward with Andre Burakovsky (five points), Nazem Kadri (four), Joonas Donskoi (three) and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (two).

Cale Makar (points in every game this season) and Samuel Girard have helped the Avalanche improve on defense (12 goals allowed) and are a big reason they're the only undefeated team left (5-0-0). Defense has been an issue for Colorado in recent seasons, but it's been a strength this season.

Minuses: It's hard to find any negatives for the Avalanche right now when they've won each game (except one in overtime) by at least two goals. But I would say they need to keep their foot on the gas. Last season, they had a good start before losing streaks of eight, six and five games almost made them miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

Penguins

Pluses: They've been finding a way to get offense in the absence of Evgeni Malkin and three other forwards. They've scored seven goals in each of their past two games (7-4 win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday; 7-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday).

Sam Lafferty (five points; three goals, two assists) and some of the other young players (Brandon Tanev, Joseph Blandisi, Teddy Blueger) have stepped up. Coach Mike Sullivan told them they aren't American Hockey League players anymore. They're NHL players and he expects them to play that way and has given them ice time. So far, they've responded.

Minuses: The Penguins probably won't score seven goals a game without Malkin (lower body), Nick Bjugstad (lower body), Bryan Rust (upper body) and Alex Galchenyuk (lower body), so they will have to step up defensively. Pittsburgh plays the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights next, and those are teams that can score.

The penalty kill has been underwhelming at 78.6 percent. They'll likely need to stay out of the box because the Avalanche have an excellent power play (27.3 percent).

 

Flyers

Pluses: Goalie Carter Hart has been awesome. He's 2-0-1, has allowed five goals in three games (1.62 goals-against average, .938 save percentage) and is very mature for a 21-year-old. It's a long season but so far, he's handled the pressure nicely.

Fresh off signing a new contract, Travis Konecny has had a great start to the season by leading the Flyers with seven points (three goals, four assists). Three other Flyers players have at least three points (Oskar Lindblom , Ivan Provorov, Matt Niskanen). The points may not be there, but Philadelphia is playing a faster game under coach Alain Vigneault and it's led to success.

Minuses: Jakub Voracek has no points and Claude Giroux has one assist. The good thing is that the Flyers have found a way to get points in three of their first four games with those players struggling.

 

Oilers

Pluses: James Neal leads the NHL in goals (eight), and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are tied with Winnipeg Jets forwards Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele for the NHL lead with 12 points (four goals, eight assists each). And the power play is sizzling. The Oilers have scored eight goals, second-most in the NHL behind the Buffalo Sabres (nine) and are at 40.0 percent (8-for-20).

I had a chance to talk to Wayne Gretzky and Oilers coach Dave Tippett and the culture is just different this year. They're playing a tighter brand of hockey and it's showing. The challenge will be maintaining this success, but I think Tippett is the right person as coach.

Minuses: Outside of McDavid, Draisaitl and Neal, the rest of the Oilers have combined for six goals. Three are by Zack Kassian and two by defensemen (Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom). The depth forwards need to step up so that the big line isn't counted on all season, as it has been in the past.

It will be interesting to see how the Oilers respond after their first loss of the season, 3-1 at the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday. It was also the first game this season they scored fewer than three goals.

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