Each Wednesday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be offering his plusses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game in his Weekes on the Web blog. Weekes will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk. Nicklas Backstrom and Henrik Zetterberg. Russians and Swedes, Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings. This is must-watch stuff in October, folks.
NBCSN has you covered Wednesday night with the Red Wings visiting the Capitals (7:30 p.m. ET).
Here are some of my likes and concerns about Detroit and Washington so far this season, and a couple of points of emphasis you should keep in mind when you're watching the game:
Likes: The main thing for me with the Capitals is obviously they have been much better defensively, and that's so important.
I love the fact that they've been empowered to go out and make plays, but you're not going to go out and run up four, five or six goals a game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so it's important that they learn how to win games in different ways.
If there is a positive for Washington in having so many different coaches in recent seasons, it's that these guys should be able to take the positives from their different coaches and use them.
Maybe there are offensive tools they can take from Adam Oates. There are some defensive principles that they're learning now under Barry Trotz. You put it all in your arsenal and you're able to find different ways to win games. The Capitals are doing that now.
Everybody expected Trotz would come in and tell them they had to defend at the expense of their offense, and that hasn't been the case. That was a misnomer.
He focused on defending with the Nashville Predators because of his personnel. His best players were his goalie and defensemen. You've got to coach the team that's in front of you. As much as you could have your system or your ideal, you have to coach the personnel you have.
To that point he has done a really good job in Washington. The Capitals have struck a balance so far. They have scored three goals per game, but they're allowing only a shade over two (2.12). Their power play is good again (25.9 percent), but their penalty kill is an acceptable 20 percent.
Concerns: The thing for me with the Capitals is their timing and their spacing between their forwards and defensemen both offensively and defensively hasn't hit its peak yet. I don't feel they have that cohesion yet between their forwards and defensemen.
These guys have done a better job defensively, but what's the spacing like between the defensemen and the forwards? What's the spacing like when they have the puck? Are there a lot of short, close passes? There are more than last season in certain instances, but not enough.
I find that they're still spread out a little bit, but to be fair that could be familiarity. They've got some new defensemen back there in Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and even Nate Schmidt, and they're trying to do some new things.
They need more close support in the defensive zone with their breakouts, and even in the offensive zone too. When do your forwards jump down to help out the 'D'? Those are things they can improve on, and talking to guys there they are working to improve on these things.
Likes: The thing with the Red Wings is none of their young guys have taken a step back, and Zetterberg is on fire. He has 10 points in eight games.
Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall specifically, there is no drop-off in either of their games. Zetterberg has been downright dominant. He doesn't even look like he's coming back from an injury, which he is. He's been fully dominant.
Zetterberg's play has taken some of the heat off Detroit's young players, and at the same time I don't feel that the young players have taken any steps back. I feel like the Red Wings young players have continued to do some of the things we saw from them last year.
Maybe it's not fully reflected in the production yet, at this point right here and right now, but certainly when you watch their games those guys are getting chances. They're still offensive. They're still attacking. They're still creative. That's why I feel they haven't taken any steps back.
|TALE OF THE TAPE: RED WINGS-CAPITALS
|4-2-2 (4th, Atlantic)
||4-2-2 (3rd, Metropolitan)
||Head-to-Head Regular-Season Record
||Streak vs. Opponent
|0-3-1 @ Washington
||Home/Road Streak vs. Opponent
||4-0-0 vs. Red Wings
||Stanley Cup Championships
||Hockey Hall of Fame Members
||Most Famous Alumnus
||Hart Trophy Winners
|Adam Oates (1985-89)
||Best Player in Common
||Adam Oates (1997-2002)
The other thing that jumps out at me, and it's most important, is Jimmy Howard has played really well in goal. He made it a point this offseason to make it his mission to get back to being an all-star goalie.
Howard was an all-star a few years ago in Ottawa, so he knows what it takes to play at that level and obviously he knows he is capable of playing at that level. He puts the pressure on himself to do what he can to play at that level. That's good. He has high expectations.
Concerns: Detroit's power play right now is brutal. There are a lot of teams right now that can say that, but that doesn't make it any better for the Red Wings. Their power play is brutal. It's 6.7 percent, just 2-for-30.
It's out of sync. It's not decisive enough. They're in between.
This is not a problem out of lack of personnel. They have the personnel. But they don't make quick decisions. If you don't make quick decisions you allow the penalty killers and the opposing goalie to get set. If they can get set and in position, they're going to do a better job defending. The key is you've got to keep them off balance.
I know from a goalie standpoint it's really difficult to play when you're always on the move and you always feel like you're barely getting to your spots on time. The puck is there, now it's there, shot, bang, rebound. Now you're up and it's behind the goal line, behind the net, short-side pass and shot, bang, rebound.
That's how you exhaust the opposing goalie and penalty killers. You put them under duress. You don't want them to be comfortable.
It's hard enough to kill penalties, but if I can be in position as a goalie and the forwards and 'D' can be in position and get there early, set for the play, well it's a whole different ball of wax in how they kill and their success.
The Red Wings need to pressure the PK better.
Three things to watch
1. Washington's Andre Burakovsky
This kid is a player. He's fun to watch, very talented. He had a great camp, a great preseason and a lot was expected of him, and so far in many ways he looks like that same player. He's really a fun player to watch, very skilled and crafty with the puck. He has a lot of composure in the offensive zone.
2. Howard, how he plays and looks
This might be off the grid because it's not something 9.9 out of 10 people would pick up, but I think the reason he looks bigger in the net is the color choice and the pad type he's wearing. You go on Google Images and see Jimmy Howard this year and Jimmy Howard last season, and you'll see the difference. He's a bigger goalie in the net. The colors are different and the model of pad he's wearing gives the illusion to the shooter that he's bigger.
3. How often Datsyuk and Zetterberg draw a crowd
Not only do they always draw at least one defender, but watch how often they draw multiple defenders. It's alarming, but in a good way for the Red Wings. They always draw numbers, and just when you think you've got them where you want them, they'll find the open guy because of the numbers they've drawn.