Few things in hockey beat a good, old-fashioned Original Six rivalry game like we get Wednesday night on NBCSN between the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins at Joe Louis Arena.
Players and coaches from each team will be looking at this game as a big game, a big early-season test, already the second of five this season. The Red Wings defeated the Bruins 2-1 last week at TD Garden. Could there be a role reversal Wednesday night at the Joe?
The Red Wings know that with three straight losses the Bruins should be a hungry team coming into Detroit. They know the Bruins are for real, that they're one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, a team everybody is chasing despite a slow start.
The Bruins know the Red Wings are as well-coached as a team can get with Mike Babcock. They know Detroit can own the puck and dominate time of possession, as it did last week in a 2-1 win against Boston. They know Joe Louis Arena is a difficult place to play.
There are a lot of factors to consider in this game Wednesday night. First let's take a look at what I've liked and what concerns me about each team:
Likes: Carl Soderberg, goaltending, defense, playing to their identity every night
Soderberg is instrumental to Boston's success, and yet he's so underrated, likely because he's not playing higher in the lineup. He's a third-line center, but most centers would be a third-line center in Boston considering David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron are the top two.
His size and playmaking ability make him a difficult mark for opposing defenses, especially when those defenses have to first be concerned with Krejci and Bergeron. He's a good player overall, but he's a great player for them for where coach Claude Julien has him slotted.
Boston's goaltending is obviously phenomenal. Tuukka Rask is as good as it gets, a Vezina Trophy winner, and we saw a lot of positives from Niklas Svedberg in the 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday.
The Bruins defense is still strong even without Johnny Boychuk, who is one of the more underrated defenseman in the NHL. Adam McQuaid is back, healthy, and playing well. The same goes for Dennis Seidenberg. Torey Krug has been a revelation.
The Bruins play to their identity all the time. They never sacrifice who they are to try to get an edge somewhere else. That much is evident now. They're struggling to score, but they're still playing a stingy, tough, gritty game.
Concerns: First-line right wing
This is a big concern.
The Bruins had Nathan Horton and replaced him with Jarome Iginla. That worked out incredibly well last season when Iginla, Krejci and Milan Lucic were together on the same line for the entire season. That's almost unheard of now with the way coaches change their lines.
But the Bruins have struggled to find a replacement for Iginla. It's not clear yet who can take that spot.
Everyone thought it would be Loui Eriksson, but he's playing with Soderberg and playing well. Reilly Smith has good chemistry with Bergeron. Eriksson and Smith could combine for 50 goals this season. That wouldn't surprise me, but who is going to play with Krejci and Lucic?
Will Simon Gagne go up there as a left shot on the right side? Will Julien move some pieces around and put Smith or Eriksson up there with Lucic and Krejci? Can rookie Seth Griffith have any sustained success in that spot?
There is a big difference in putting a line out with two power forwards playing outside of Krejci. The Bruins had that for the past few seasons with Horton and Iginla on the right side, but now they have to find it -- and it's hard to say they have the same personnel.
Likes: Young players, Jimmy Howard
It's a great sign for the Red Wings that their young players have been good so far. They need to show that they're getting better and that last season was not a fluke.
Right Wing - DET
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 2
SOG: 4 | +/-: -1
Gustav Nyquist has two goals, picking up from where he left off last season, when he scored 28 goals in 57 games. Luke Glendenning, Riley Sheahan
, Tomas Jurco
and Tomas Tatar
have been good through two games.
Especially with Pavel Datsyuk out of the lineup, it's so important for Detroit to have these young guys playing well. So far, so good.
It's even more important for Detroit to get good goaltending from Jimmy Howard. He wants to challenge himself to be the best, and to get to the All-Star Game in Columbus like he got to the All-Star Game in Ottawa a few years ago. He knows he's capable of playing at that elite level.
The Red Wings don't have much margin for error in their game, so it's vitally important that they get great goaltending on a nightly basis from Howard and Jonas Gustavsson. They can't slide and expect the offense to pick them up.
The Red Wings have good defensemen in Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson. I think Jakub Kindl can still be a solid player and Danny DeKeyser is coming on. But Detroit doesn't have enough depth on its blue line.
As the Red Wings continue to retool you're looking at their super prospects, some of whom are playing, but the emphasis has to be on 'D' going forward for general manager Ken Holland. He needs to build up that back end.
One thing the Red Wings have always had is great balance between forwards and defensemen.
You think of all the great forwards they have had like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, but then you can look at the blue line and see a string of Hall of Fame players like Nicklas Lidstrom, Larry Murphy, Chris Chelios and Brian Rafalski, who is going into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame this year.
The Red Wings need to build that blue line up, but for now they have to defend by committee and that means giving more responsibility to their young forwards. It's imperative that Detroit's young forwards are good at playing on both sides of the red line.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Aggressiveness from Detroit's forwards
Will they use their speed and skill to counter the physicality of the Bruins? Are they going to challenge Zdeno Chara, attack at Seidenberg, attack the net?
2. Krug in his home state
He's a Michigan guy. He went to Michigan State. He'll have friends and family in the crowd. You'd think he'd want to put on a show, so look for him to have a big night.
3. Goalie matchup
This could be a matchup between two goalies who represent their teams at the All-Star Game in January. Rask is the best, coming off a Vezina Trophy season; Howard wants to become the best and has the tools to get there.