Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN "Wednesday Night Hockey" game in his Weekes on the Web blog.
The Washington Capitals are on an impressive run right now, going 13-1-2 in their past 16 games. Meanwhile, the New York Rangers are trending in the opposite direction, losing three of their past four, including consecutive games on a Florida road trip by a combinded score of 13-6.
The Metropolitan Division rivals will each seek an important two points when the Capitals (16-3-4) visit the Rangers (8-8-2) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVAS).
Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: One key for them is obviously John Carlson. He had three assists in a 5-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, has 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) in 23 games, and has been far and away the best defenseman in the League this season.
Following a slow start in which he lost three of his first four starts, Braden Holtby has returned to form, going 10-0-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in his past 11 starts. It's a contract year for him, and with Ilya Samsonov waiting in the wings, Holtby's proven he still has something left in the tank.
Lastly, Washington has been healthy. Good teams win with depth and players stepping up in place of injured players, but it's even better when you don't have to worry about that, which the Capitals haven't had to yet.
Minuses: The Capitals have been playing well in all phases of the game, leading the NHL in goals scored, ranking fifth on the power play at 24.3 percent, and tied for sixth on the penalty kill at 85.2 percent, so I really don't see any negatives with this team.
Pluses: Mika Zibanejad will miss his 10th straight game because of an upper-body injury, but the forward is nearing a return. Although the Rangers have gone 5-3-1 without him, Zibanejad is their best playmaker and had 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in nine games before the injury.
Artemi Panarin has been all the Rangers could've asked for and more. He leads the team in points (23), goals (nine) and assists (14) in 18 games, and will enter the game against the Capitals on an 11-game point streak (five goals, 12 assists).
Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo are players who have really taken advantage of their opportunities and have started to develop. Strome has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) and DeAngelo has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 18 games.
Minuses: The Rangers have been inconsistent all season, which is a big reason why they have a .500 record. They can't seem to string together wins without losing a few games. We know they've been in a rebuild, but acquiring a guy like Panarin would seem to accelerate that, and the Rangers aren't quite there yet.
New York ranks in the bottom five of the NHL on the penalty kill (28th) and in goals allowed per game (30th). Even if the Rangers continue to score at a good clip (3.33 goals per game, tied for ninth), it's hard to win games in this League when you give up a power-play goal on three out of every four chances and allow more than 3.5 goals per game.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. How will the Rangers step up with a big opportunity against an elite team?
2. Capitals' power-play
3. Star power with Artemi Panarin and Alex Ovechkin