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Weekes on the Web

Pluses, minuses for Flyers, Blackhawks

Philadelphia needs more production from depth players; Chicago struggling to find chemistry

by Kevin Weekes @kevinweekes / NHL Network Analyst

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 and Chicago Blackhawks may only play each other twice a season, but they are always intense games. You can bet the Flyers haven't forgotten the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, when forward Patrick Kane scored in overtime in Game 6 in their building and had to watch the Blackhawks hoist the Stanley Cup.

Philadelphia is coming off a 4-3 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, after the Flyers scored two goals in the final minute of regulation to tie the game. Chicago enters Wednesday lost three straight and five of six.
Each team is desperate for a win when the Flyers (6-5-1) visit the Blackhawks (5-5-2) at United Center on Wednesday (8 p.m., NBCSN, NHL.TV). Here's my breakdown of the game:

 

Flyers

Pluses: Center Claude Giroux has had a great start this season. He's healthy and already is dialed in, with 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 12 games. The Flyers will need that production from their captain if they want to make a run.

His linemate, Jakub Voracek, also is off to a fast start. He's second in the League in assists (14) behind Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (18) and has 16 points. Giroux and Voracek playing the way they did a few years ago has been a welcome sight for Philadelphia.

Video: PHI@TOR: Voracek slides the puck under Andersen

Some of the Flyers' young defensemen are getting good experience. Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg have gotten their feet wet. They're hoping to follow in the footsteps of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. Sometimes it's tough, but you need your defensemen to play big minutes when it counts.

Center Sean Couturier is Philadelphia's leading goal-scorer with nine. Who saw that coming? I know I didn't. He has five in the past four games, and is second on the Flyers with 15 points, behind Voracek.

Minuses: One problem for Philadelphia is it still doesn't have a four-line offense, which can be tough when you can't get the bottom two lines rolling. The Flyers still are top-heavy in their production; the top-six forwards have scored 30 goals. All others have scored six.

Their team defense is better than it was last season, but still not what it could be. They're allowing 2.92 goals-per game (15th in the NHL) and have allowed 17 goals in their past four games. They've got to be able to clamp down more and limit their opponents' scoring chances.

Philadelphia has been inconsistent; it has looked like a great team at times, defeating the Washington Capitals 8-2 on Oct. 14, but then take steps back, the way they did Monday against the Coyotes. This is a big test with back-to-back games at Chicago and at the St. Louis Blues. Which team will show up?

 

Blackhawks

Pluses: For the most part, the goaltending has been great. Corey Crawford has a 2.12 goals-against average and .935 save percentage despite his 5-4-0 record, and has managed to keep the Blackhawks in a lot of games. They do need backup Anton Forsberg to play better; he's 0-1-2 with a 4.25 GAA and .895 SV%. If he can't turn it around, Chicago will have to play Crawford more than it would like to in the regular season.

Forward Brandon Saad has been really good in his return to the Blackhawks. He's becoming their big-time goal scorer, with six to lead Chicago, including four game-winners. Forward Ryan Hartman is second on the Blackhawks with 10 (four goals, six assists). Kane has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 12 games, but hasn't looked as dynamic as he has in the past.

Video: NSH@CHI: Saad taps in game-winning goal in OT

We know they rely heavily on defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta have come up big as well; Rutta has five points (two goals, three assists) and Forsling has four assists. They've also been good defensively.

Minuses: Like the Flyers, the Blackhawks have a top-heavy offense as well. Center Artem Anisimov has three goals, forward Patrick Sharp has two and forward Alex DeBrincat has one. More is needed from that group; Chicago can't win relying solely on Kane, Saad and center Jonathan Toews.

Coach Joel Quenneville has put the names in the blender and the Blackhawks have been mixing and matching line combinations all season. They haven't settled in on their chemistry, and with losses in five of six games, the lines are sure to change again Wednesday. It's tough to get acclimated to new linemates all the time, and it could be a hindrance to them.

Lastly, Chicago has had to retool time and time again, which is difficult to do. The Blackhawks have lost a lot of players who were very good in their roles since 2009-10, when they won the Cup. This offseason, they lost forward Artemi Panarin and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, two huge parts of their team. It'll take some time to get adjusted to that, as indicated by the Blackhawks subpar record.

 

Three things to watch

1. Can Couturier continue his scoring prowess?

2. Will the Blackhawks get some production from their depth players?

3. Who will start for the Flyers? Goaltender Brian Elliott has struggled (5-2-1, 3.23 GAA, .884 SV%), but could get the call. 

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