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 Philadelphia Flyers' 10-game winning streak seems like ages ago. Since then, they've fallen on hard times, losing four straight games and six of their past seven. Trending in the opposite direction are the New York Rangers, who have won six of nine.
The Flyers (20-14-5) come in well-rested; they haven't played since a 4-3 shootout loss at the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. The Rangers (26-13-1) lost to the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 at home on Tuesday, ending their three-game winning streak. But you can throw out the records when these two longtime division rivals play.
It's the second of four games this season between the Rangers and Flyers; New York defeated Philadelphia 3-2 on Nov. 25 at Wells Fargo Center, where they'll meet again on Wednesday (8 p.m. E.T; NBCSN, NHL.TV). Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: With Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta, you know you're getting great goaltending every night. Lundqvist had struggled until recently but he's back on track and passed Dominik Hasek for first in career victories among Europe-born goalies with his 390th on Saturday.
Defenseman Nick Holden has been a big surprise for the Rangers, as well as one of the best quiet surprises in the Eastern Conference. Not just defensively but offensively as well. He has eight goals, including one on Tuesday, 13 assists, is plus-16 and has 74 hits and 44 blocks. Holden is confident when the puck is on his stick, he's shooting, he's scoring and he's making plays defensively.
The Rangers' speed and ability to score goals and their depth have carried them through the season. New acquisitions Michael Grabner, Jimmy Vesey and Brandon Pirri come to mind. When a star of the team in Chris Kreider has a hat trick (Saturday), and a role player in Matt Puempel has a hat trick (Thursday), that's when you know things are going right.
Video: BUF@NYR: Holden blasts a one-timer past Nilsson
Minuses: Sometimes when the Rangers have lost, they have lost big, which is a head-scratcher based on how good their team is and how great they started. You don't expect them to be losing by a lot, and they've been on the wrong end of a few games like that already.
The other thing for the Rangers is the injury bug. Rick Nash and Mika Zibanejad, two big parts of their team, have been out for a while. Zibanejad adds a different dynamic when he's in the lineup with his size and his ability to shoot the puck, as well as his ability to play a 200-foot game and in all situations.
Pluses: Philadelphia has one of the highest-scoring defensive corps in the League with 22 goals. Ivan Provorov (three goals, 13 assists) has been very impressive. Mark Streit has five goals; Shayne Gostisbehere has been underperforming but has four goals, as does Michael Del Zotto; Brandon Manning has three, Andrew MacDonald has two and Radko Gudas has one.
Again, it all starts with their three stars Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek who have all played very well and all could be All-Stars this season. They are the top three scoring leaders on the team, and that's not a coincidence.
Brayden Schenn is a very versatile forward. He has 11 goals and 13 assists, and he skates as well as any upper-echelon player in the League. He's a great penalty-killer, is physical, responsible and very well-respected. Even GM Ron Hextall was talking about how much he means to the group.
Video: EDM@PHI: Voracek blasts one-timer for PPG in 3rd
Minuses: One concern I have is with their goalies. Steve Mason has taken over as the No. 1, but how will that work now that Michal Neuvirth is back from injury? Mason has always seemed to play well when he was the unquestioned No. 1, so will this be a distraction for Mason or can he block that out and just play?
The Flyers are faster than in years past; however, they're still not as fast as some other teams, including the Rangers. I don't know if they can get into a game where they just trade chances, I'm sure both coaches will say that.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. The speed of the Rangers
2. The Flyers' defense, and the ability of their defenseman to make offensive plays
3. Intensity of the game