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 Detroit Red Wings are coming off an emotional 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators in their final home opener at Joe Louis Arena on Monday. They played well and hope to carry that over into their game Wednesday against the New York Rangers.
The Rangers defeated the San Jose Sharks 7-4 on Monday and have looked good in their two home games, outscoring opponents 12-7
It's always great when two Original Six teams play, and it should be no different when the Red Wings (1-2-0) visit the Rangers (2-1-0) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: Can they bottle what they did at home on Monday? They made plays and looked the Detroit Red Wings of old. I think their goaltending is their biggest strength. Petr Mrazek is a young star goalie that has a chance to be an all-star in this League based on his talent. But Jimmy Howard is still a good goalie, a two-time All-Star, so on a nightly basis, I don't see how they should be out-goaltended based on how good their tandem is. For now, they've identified Mrazek as their No. 1, but I wouldn't be surprised if Howard gets into more games than he did last season.
Video: DET@FLA: Mrazek stops Matheson, keeps puck out
Detroit struggled last season to score goals (209, 23rd in the League) but had a great game Monday. The Red Wings got the puck up the ice, made plays off the rush and had some extended shifts in the offensive zone. If you are coach Jeff Blashill, you really have to be happy overall. Clearly the emotion from playing their last home opener at the Joe was a factor, but they looked really impressive.
Center Henrik Zetterberg (36) and defenseman Mike Green (31) are two veterans who've had really good careers. In the case of Zetterberg, having him on the wing could prolong his career. It's less wear and tear on him, and less responsibility.
Green had his first NHL hat trick Monday (652 games), and Thomas Vanek has looked really good in his first three games with the Red Wings. For whatever reason, Vanek didn't pan out with the Minnesota Wild. He said he would be a fit in Detroit and early on, that's been the case; he has two goals and three assists in three games). I saw him play for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and he said he was motivated. He can beat you in a lot of different ways when he's on his game.
Video: OTT@DET: Mike Green records first career hat trick
Minuses: They certainly need to improve their defense. It's still their Achilles' heel for now. Whether it's restricted free agent defenseman Jacob Trouba or whoever, they need to do something to improve. With all the young forwards coming up, Detroit should concentrate on defense, since it's an area that has been a problem.
The Red Wings are not overly physical, but I liked Jonathan Ericsson in the fight against Dion Phaneuf on Monday. They need more of that so they don't get pushed around by opponents. That's been a challenge at times.
The power play was somewhat of an issue last season (18.8 percent, 13th). So far, they are 3-for-8 (37.5 percent), and when you look at the talent Blashill has at his disposal, you have to be expecting more production than last season. But that's not to say they'll keep up the pace through the first three games.
Pluses: New York wanted to play faster this season, something the Rangers struggled to do for much of last season after trading forward Carl Hagelin in June 2015. We saw how important speed is when Hagelin and the Penguins used it on their run to winning the Stanley Cup last season. The Rangers' breakouts were better on Monday; they did a much better job of breaking the puck out and exploiting the Sharks in the second and third periods. A guy like Michael Grabner (two goals) can be a huge weapon for them with his speed.
Video: NYI@NYR: Grabner buries a rebound past Halak
Most of the new additions have looked good. Brandon Pirri (two points) is a goal scorer and has played inspiring hockey, but I'd like to see him higher up on the lineup. Mika Zibanejad has done a little of everything (one goal, four points). Jimmy Vesey, who scored his first NHL goal on Monday, was a big addition for them. Plus Grabner, who we already mentioned.
Video: SJS@NYR: Vesey nets Stepan's feed for first NHL goal
The Rangers are attacking more. If not for Carter Hutton in a 3-2 loss against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, the Rangers would have blown them out. Hutton had 15 saves in the third period when the Blues didn't have a shot on goal. The Rangers are outshooting opponents 103-77 in three games.
Minuses: I'd like to see more of Dylan McIlrath on defense. I don't know why he hasn't been in the lineup; he was a healthy scratch in the first two games and played 9:14 on Monday. If you watched the Rangers last season and saw how many times guys took whacks at Henrik Lundqvist for rebounds, when you have a guy like McIlrath (6-foot-5, 236 pounds) playing, I don't think that's going to happen. If you put him in the right situation, he should be a 10-12 minute per game guy.
The Rangers are a deeper team up front this year and I know that coach Alain Vigneault likes to use four lines, but some of the players should be rewarded a little bit more. Based on camp and ability, there's no way Pirri should be on the fourth line (he played with Grabner and Josh Jooris on Monday). I like four lines, but they don't always have to look the same. Maybe there's a guy playing lower in the lineup who earns himself a shift on the top line.
Three thigs to watch
1. Do the Rangers continue to play fast? It's been a big plus for them early on.
2. Do the Red Wings continue to make plays? Will they carry over what worked for them in the home opener?
3. Do the new players for each team keep rolling? Zibanejad, Pirri, Vesey for the Rangers; Vanek and Frans Nielsen for Red Wings.