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Weekes on the Web

Pluses, minuses for Devils-Flyers, Kings-Canucks

Simmonds should make impact in return to Philadelphia; Los Angeles looking for top players to step up

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 "Wednesday Night Hockey" games on NBCSN in his Weekes on the Web blog.

The New Jersey Devils (0-1-1) are in search of their first win of the season when they play the Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0) at Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS).

Then the Los Angeles Kings (1-1-0) play the Vancouver Canucks (0-2-0) at Rogers Arena (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, SNP) in what is sure to be an entertaining game between two teams looking to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs after failing to do so last season.

Here's my breakdown of the games:

 

Devils

Pluses: There's a new sense of optimism after a big offseason for the Devils. They selected center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, signed forward Wayne Simmonds in free agency and acquired defenseman P.K. Subban and forward Nikita Gusev in trades. Those were big moves for a team which finished with 72 points (31-41-10) last season, the third-worst record in the League.

Last season goalie Cory Schneider was unable to stay healthy and won six games (6-13-4, 3.06 goals-against average, .903 save percentage). Schneider made 19 saves on 21 shots against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday but was pulled from the Devils' 5-4 overtime loss during the third period because of an injury. But he likely will be in goal against the Flyers.

Minuses: The Devils had a 4-0 lead in their first game of the season before allowing four straight regulation goals in the loss to the Jets and then allowed seven in a 7-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. With all the new pieces it will take time to build chemistry, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

They need production out of their fourth line. Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha and John Hayden made up that line against the Jets, then Hayden was scratched for Jesper Boqvist against the Sabres. Those four players have one assist are a combined minus-7 this season.

 

Flyers

Pluses: Alain Vigneault is in his first season as coach after he was hired April 15. He's 12th in NHL history with 649 wins and has led two teams to the Presidents' Trophy (Vancouver Canucks, 2010-11, 2011-12; New York Rangers 2013-14) and the Stanley Cup Final (Canucks, 2011; Rangers, 2014). He will be a big addition behind the bench.

After years of goalie instability the Flyers believe they have found the answer in Carter Hart. He was 16-13-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .917 save percentage in 31 games last season as a rookie and bigger and better things will be expected this season.

Video: CHI@PHI: Hart shuts the door on Kubalik in close

Minuses: Will they be consistent? They've often followed up winning streaks with losing streaks. Remember, this is a team that had a 10-game winning streak in 2016-17 and failed to make the playoffs and had a 10-game losing streak the following season and did make the playoffs.

Simmonds will be playing his first game in Philadelphia since he was traded to the Nashville Predators on Feb. 25 and then signed with the Devils on July 1. He's a prototypical Flyer who adds scoring with grit and the Flyers will miss him. Hopefully he gets a nice ovation in his return.

 

Kings

Pluses: Todd McLellan was named coach April 16 and is tasked with turning the Kings around after they scored 199 goals last season, second fewest in the NHL after the Anaheim Ducks (196) and missed the playoffs for the third time in five seasons. Having coached the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers, McLellan knows the Pacific Division well, which should help him with the Kings.

It was nice to see them show some offense in their opener, a 6-5 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Last season, they scored at least five goals in a game six times and two goals or fewer 46 times. Eight skaters had at least one point against the Oilers, so they managed to spread it around.

Minuses: Their top players need to be their top players. Center Anze Kopitar had 60 points (22 goals, 38 assists) in 81 games last season after he was a Hart Trophy finalist with an NHL-career-high 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists) in 2017-18. Defenseman Drew Doughty was minus-34 last season, by far the worst rating of his NHL career. And Jonathan Quick was 16-23-7 in 46 games, with an .888 save percentage that was the worst in the League among the 33 goalies to play at least 40 games last season. If those three don't turn it around it'll be a long season in Los Angeles.

They must play better defensively. The Kings had four one-goal leads against the Oilers but were scored on within two minutes three of the four times they took the lead. Puck management also must improve.

 

Canucks

Pluses: They have some of the best young talent in the League in defenseman Quinn Hughes, who could be a Calder Trophy finalist as rookie of the year, and forwards Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Those three should be top forwards in the League for the next decade and make for an exciting team in Vancouver.

Jacob Markstrom has been giving the Canucks solid goaltending for the past two seasons, winning at least 23 games in each with a GAA under 2.80 and a save percentage above .910. He's appeared in 60 games each of the past two seasons and could reach that mark again this season. It wouldn't be surprising if he wins 30 games after he won 28 last season.

Video: VAN@EDM: Markstrom pushes over to rob Chiasson

Minuses: There are a lot of new faces on defense, including free agent signees Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn, and Hughes, who played five games after signing his entry-level contract March 10. That's three of six regulars who are new and must acclimate to a new system and a new partner. It could take some time for that to happen.

The Canucks have most of their top prospects playing with them, so I'm not sure how much depth they have in the system. They've also scored two goals in two games and were shut out in a 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday after they were shut out 10 times last season.

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