Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins in his Weekes on the Web blog. Weekes also will assist fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
With the holiday behind them, it's back to business for the Penguins and Bruins, with each team looking to bolster its standing in the Eastern Conference and its respective division.
The Penguins (11-9-3) play the Bruins (9-7-4) at TD Garden in the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown (1 p.m. ET; NBC, NHL.TV). Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: Phil Kessel leads the Penguins in scoring with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists). I know there are times he plays with Evgeni Malkin, but those numbers aren't bad for a guy who's been a third-line player for most of his time in Pittsburgh. Kessel is such a versatile piece. He is one of the rare players who can beat goalies from distance with his shot, and his passing is probably as lethal if not more so than his ability to finish.
For the most part, Matt Murray (11-6-1) has been really good. He has played a ton of hockey during the past two seasons, and while he hasn't been at his best this season, he's still been the horse for them and been good. The Penguins lost Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights during the offseason, but I spoke to Pittsburgh goalie coach Mike Buckley earlier in the season and he said Murray has been putting more work into the new role of being a No. 1 starter.
Most of their stars are healthy, especially Sidney Crosby. That's something that they're not used to.
Video: BUF@PIT: Kessel sends nice one-timer past Lehner
Minuses: The long playoff runs are what you want as a team, but not getting a lot of rest can wear on you. Pittsburgh played 107 games last season and 106 in 2015-16. That doesn't count the World Cup of Hockey 2016, in which a handful of Pittsburgh's top players took part. All that hockey is definitely draining and perhaps it's showing so far this season; the Penguins have 11 wins in 23 games.
Pittsburgh has been inconsistent this season. They also play on Saturday, the second game of a back-to-back. The Penguins are 0-4-2 in the second game of back-to-backs and have been outscored 35-12. The 19 back-to-backs are tied with the Ottawa Senators for the most in the League.
Pluses: On Feb. 11 last season, Boston's backup goaltenders were 1-10-2. This season has been vastly different: Anton Khudobin is 6-0-2 with a 2.13 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage. He's started and won Boston's past three games. Khudobin made 40 saves on Wednesday in a 3-2, 11-round shootout win at the New Jersey Devils. It's been a long time since they've had that kind of backup goaltending behind Tuukka Rask, who has struggled this season.
The Bruins have been getting meaningful contributions from young players like forwards Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk and defenseman Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. There are jobs to be had right now. Unfortunately, that's because of injury, but very few times are this many jobs available for young guys on the same team.
The Bruins have been without forwards David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, defenseman Torey Krug and Rask at different times this season, but they've managed to find a way to stay in the Stanley Cup Playoff race. They're one point behind the Detroit Red Wings for third place in the Atlantic Division.
Video: BOS@NJD: Khudobin snags Butcher's shot in SO
Minuses: Although the Bruins have managed to hang in despite all the injuries, it's been hard because some of those guys are key players on the team. Marchand has 15 points in 14 games, which is second on the Bruins, but has missed four straight games with an undisclosed injury. Bergeron (five goals, 13 points in 15 games) missed the first five games of the season. Rask, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2014, missed time with a concussion and has been struggling (3-7-2, 2.89 GAA, .897 save percentage) but I'm confident that he will get his game back.
Sometimes with the relative inexperience, you have to learn to live with mistakes and learn to be patient. It hasn't been a complete rebuild for the Bruins, who have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs two of the past three seasons. It's good to know that guys they've had in Providence in the American Hockey League are coming up and making an impact for the Bruins and are showing they have the skills to play.
Three things to watch
1. Who starts in goal for the Bruins?
2. Who will defend against Crosby?
3. How will the young kids do for the Bruins?