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.
The New York Rangers and Boston Bruins, two Original Six teams, have been rivals since the early days of the NHL and will face off for the first time this season. Boston has lost three of its past five games and New York, after a slow start, has won four straight.
Each team will look to gain valuable points in the standings when the Bruins (6-4-3) visit the Rangers (7-7-2) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV). Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: The Bruins have Patrice Bergeron, which is a huge plus. He is a player who each and every game, I know what I am getting. He's a more skilled player than people give him credit. Bergeron has eight points (two goals, six assists) in eight games since returning from a lower-body injury and is excellent in all three zones on both sides of the puck. There's a reason he's won the Selke Trophy in four of the past six seasons.
They have two young defensemen playing big minutes in Charlie McAvoy (22:55 per game) and Brandon Carlo (19:09). I know everyone is all in for McAvoy -- I had him as my rookie of the year -- but Carlo has been just as good. When you can get young defensemen who can be paired with Zdeno Chara and play well, that says a lot.
Their young forwards have a lot of skill. Led by David Pastrnak, 21, (8-6-14), I think at times he is a game breaker. Anders Bjork, 21 (3-4-7), Jake DeBrusk, 21 (3-3-6), and Sean Kuraly, 24, (2-2-4) have found roles and fit in nicely.
Coach Bruce Cassidy has done a nice job in activating the defense to play more offensively. The Bruins have been a different team, and have looked more balanced and more competitive, since he took over last season. They've played faster and been more offensively minded.
Video: WSH@BOS: Pastrnak finishes Bergeron's great feed
Minuses: As much as youth is a plus for the Bruins, it can also be a negative thing. McAvoy's transition has been virtually seamless but he will make mistakes, like young players will, and Boston will have to live with that. There are players who have tons of skill but learning to play in the NHL takes time. You have to have some patience.
There are times when the Bruins are clicking, but then there are other times when they don't play like a Stanley Cup Playoff team. They've won six of 13 games but haven't won two games in a row, so clearly there is room for improvement.
Luckily for them, goalie Anton Khudobin won the backup job and has been great (3-0-1, 2.52 goals-against average, .926 save percentage). However, the Bruins are highly dependent on Tuukka Rask. He's been mediocre (3-4-2, 2.73 GAA, .903 save percentage) but they really need him to be healthy.
Pluses: The Rangers are playing much faster and are doing a better job in their defensive zone. I think their most complete game was how they played in a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 2. They didn't change their game and weren't desperate to try and find offensive opportunities that weren't there. They weren't sloppy and ended up defeating one of the best teams in the League.
Scoring is up in the NHL and the Rangers have scored more during their winning streak. They have scored five goals in two straight games and 18 in their past four. Their speed has led to many opportunities that has led to this recent surge.
The power play is a threat again. They scored three times on five power-play opportunities in a 5-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday and are 6-for-15 in their past four games. Mika Zibanejad had three-power play assists. Chris Kreider, who also had a power-play goal, has been a net-front presence and that's something the Rangers need.
Michael Grabner has seven goals. I think he was under-utilized earlier in the season. He's too fast and his speed creates havoc for opposing teams. Grabner scored 27 goals last season and has four goals in his past three games. And Pavel Buchnevich (6-6-12) is also making strides. He seems more confident and is super-skilled. Next to Zibanejad, he may have the second-hardest shot on the Rangers.
Video: CBJ@NYR: Buchnevich buries one-timer for PPG
Minuses: I still think they need more consistency in their defensive zone. They've been getting outworked in that area, which led to a 1-5-2 start. Maybe it was because Kevin Shattenkirk (and Tony DeAngelo before he was sent to Hartford of the American Hockey League) needed time to adjust to their system.
The Rangers have to start on time. They've given up 20 goals in the first period, tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for third-most in the League, and getting behind early has been a problem. They haven't been able to come back once they've given up a few goals and points are at a premium, especially in the Metropolitan Division.
Lastly, besides Shattenkirk (15 points) and Ryan McDonagh (nine points), the Rangers could use more scoring from defensemen; the other D-men have combined for 12 points. Shattenkirk has more goals (five) than the rest of the defenseman have combined (four).
Three things to watch
1. Do the Rangers continue to play as fast?
2. How do the Bruins young players step up on Broadway?
3. Can the Rangers power play continue to sizzle?