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 Washington Capitals are no strangers to each other. The Metropolitan Division rivals have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times in the past eight years, with New York winning three of the five.
Washington leads the Metropolitan Division and will clinch the Presidents' Trophy for the second straight season with a win Wednesday. The Rangers likely will play the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference First Round, but can still move up to third place in the division if they win out and get help.
The Rangers (47-26-6) visit the Capitals (53-18-8) at Verizon Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. E.T.; NBCSN, NHL.TV) with each team still having something to play for.
Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: New York has been the NHL's best road team. They are 27-10-2 and play a different game on the road. They are a real complete team in their road game, starting in net and on the back end. Very seldom do they chase the game. They manage the game and manage the puck. For the most part, they've played really well away from Madison Square Garden.
Secondly, all of the Rangers' lines have players who can score. You have Brandon Pirri (eight goals, 10 assists) and Pavel Buchnevich (eight goals, 12 assists) out of the lineup recently as healthy scratches at times, and they've shown they can help. Chris Kreider (28), Michael Grabner (27), Rick Nash (23) and J.T. Miller (22) are the four Rangers with at least 20 goals.
The speed of the Rangers is their calling card. When they are on their game, they are playing fast and beating opponents to pucks up and down the ice. It may not have been as prevalent as it was earlier in the season, but it has still been important.
Video: NYR@SJS: Miller hammers home one-timer for PPG
Minuses: We've seen them come out in some games and get blown out by teams they shouldn't lose to. I'm not sure if they lose focus or what, but some nights, they are just not as focused as they should be.
The Rangers aren't a super-physical team, relying more on their speed. I think they will try to use their speed against the Capitals but they will need to be more physical, especially in the playoffs when they likely face the Canadiens.
Lastly, there has been some juggling with the forward lines. Players have moved up and down the lines and been out of the lineup. Unless some aren't producing, I think they should get some continuity. The Rangers are too good of a team to have to shuffle lines very often.
[RELATED: 5 Reasons to watch Rangers-Capitals]
Pluses: The best news for the Capitals is they have done what they have done and Alex Ovechkin hasn't had to score 50 or even 40 goals. He has 33 which is tied for the Capitals lead with T.J. Oshie after trailing him for most of the season. That speaks to their depth and their production. In saying that, they have received contributions up and down the lineup. Nicklas Backstrom is among the League leaders in points (85), Marcus Johansson has 23 goals, Justin Williams has 22 and Braden Holtby has 41 wins.
The Capitals are able to win games in different ways. That is highlighted by the fact that they can win the Presidents' Trophy again. That's a testament to how the coaching staff has convinced them to play on a situation-to-situation basis, period-to-period basis, shift-to-shift basis and game-to-game basis.
Washington can be as good defensively as it is offensively and is a very well-balanced team. The Capitals also have very good special teams, which has helped them win many games. They're also 31-6-2 at home, so it'll be interesting to see how the League's best home team does against the League's best road team.
Video: WSH@ARI: Backstrom slams home Oshie's set up for PPG
Minuses: The Capitals may have had another smooth season heading into the playoffs, but they haven't played as well at times as they could because they seemingly didn't have much to play for. This team is built for the playoffs and so it's been hard on some nights to focus knowing that it doesn't matter what position end up in in the playoffs; they will solely be judged on how they perform in the postseason.
Last season, the Capitals wanted to win a certain way against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. This season, they have made adjustments to not to have to play differently against every opponent.
Lastly, can their defensemen not named Kevin Shattenkirk score? When they were going, they got production out of their defensemen. Shattenkirk has a goal and 12 assists in 16 games since being traded from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27. The rest of their defensemen have not been contributing much recently in terms of offense.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Will the Rangers' penalty kill take away either Ovechkin or Oshie on the power play?
2. Can the Rangers defeat the Capitals with the speed game the way the Penguins were able to last year?
3. Will the Capitals be physical while also remaining disciplined?