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 Chicago Blackhawks conclude a six-game road trip against the New York Rangers on Wednesday looking for their second win (1-3-1). This stretch has followed a five-game winning streak, so consistency has been an issue.
The Rangers are coming off a thrilling 3-2 overtime win in the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Monday. They've lost once at home in regulation in their past 16 games (13-1-2) and are fourth in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It will be a great Original Six matchup when the Blackhawks (18-14-6) visit the Rangers (21-13-5) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV).
Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: The good news is they have Patrick Kane, who has 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists), including 11 points and three game-winning goals in his past nine games. Even with Chicago's goal-scoring struggles and inconsistencies, Kane has been the one constant this season.
Rookie Alex DeBrincat has 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists). He hasn't been talked about as much as other rookies like Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) or Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins), but has made an impact. He's second on the Blackhawks in points behind Kane and has six power-play points despite averaging 14:53 of ice time per game.
Video: CHI@EDM: DeBrincat goes five-hole for power-play goal
The Blackhawks have scored seven goals in their past two games following three goals in three games, so perhaps it's a sign of a turnaround. They have points in seven of 10 games (6-3-1) and tend to show up on the big stage.
Minuses: There's a different makeup to their team right now. Kane is their only player up front that can break a game open on a shift-to-shift basis. DeBrincat could be on his way there but isn't yet. This ties into the fact that they are missing Artem Anisimov in a big way. The injured center was key on face-offs and has 13 goals, tied for second on the Blackhawks.
Corey Crawford has been one of the best goalies in the League but is on injured reserve again. He is 16-9-2 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .929 save percentage and is a big reason why the Blackhawks are tied for 12th with the Dallas Stars in goals-against per game (2.76). Rookie Jeff Glass, 32, has filled in admirably the past two games but it's unreasonable to expect him to keep that up for the duration of Crawford's injury.
Lastly, the Blackhawks don't have four lines that they can throw over the boards at any time like in the past. One reason they have been so successful during the past eight, nine seasons is because of their depth. This season, they've had to rely on their star players more than ever.
Pluses: They've played 24 of their 39 games at Madison Square Garden and have made the most of that friendly schedule by going 15-6-3. It sure feels like ages ago since they began the season 1-5-2, but they've recovered nicely.
The Rangers are seventh in goals per game (3.10) and have a goal differential of plus-14, the best in the Metropolitan Division. They've been scoring more and allowing fewer goals. When you can do that, good things usually happen.
Video: What is next for the Rangers and Sabres?
Without Chris Kreider (blood clot), forward minutes need to be spread around. Whether it's Michael Grabner, J.T. Miller or Kevin Hayes, guys will have to play more and be productive. It's hard to replace the full package of Kreider. He's a big guy (6-foot-3, 224 pounds) who's physical and can use his speed. Kreider has 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists), and so far, the Rangers have done a good job in his absence.
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has done a great job for the Rangers on the power play, which is one of the reasons they signed him. He assisted on Miller's overtime power-play goal Monday and more than half of his 23 points (5 goals, 18 assists) have come on the man-advantage (12).
Minuses: Although the power play won the game for them on Monday, it needs to get better. At 19.0 percent, they're tied for 15th. Prior to that goal, they were 0-for-17 and 3-for-34. You'll need good goaltending and defense to stay in every game if that's the case and they can't continue to struggle with the man-advantage if they want to be successful.
Their third line could be more productive. If you look at their bottom six, they have players who are talented enough to make plays. I'm not saying they should get points every night but they should be doing more than they have and will need to step up, especially without Kreider.
The Rangers need to use their speed to be successful. They dominated the first 10 minutes against the Sabres and led 2-0. Then Buffalo got back into the game and eventually tied it in the third period because the Rangers took their gas off the pedal and didn't continue to press and use their speed for opportunities. If that happens against the Blackhawks, they could be in trouble.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. How will Glass perform on the big stage in New York?
2. The speed of the Rangers.
3. The special teams battle.