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 Nashville Predators (22-19-7) seek to get back into the Stanley Cup Playoff race when they visit the Washington Capitals (34-11-5) at Capital One Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Then the Tampa Bay Lightning (29-15-5) try to continue their surge up the Eastern Conference standings when they play the Los Angeles Kings (18-27-5) at Staples Center (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Here's my breakdown of the games:
Pluses: Roman Josi has been one of the best defensemen in the NHL this season. He's second at the position in points (48) behind John Carlson of the Capitals (60) and plus-21 on a team that has struggled defensively. He's done his part to try and get the Predators into the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
Despite its struggles, Nashville trails the Vegas Golden Knights by six points for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference and has multiple games in hand on every team in front of it. The Predators must win those games but if they take care of business, they should be OK.
Minuses: The goaltending has not been stellar. Pekka Rinne (2.98 goals-against average, .897 save percentage) and Juuse Saros (3.13 GAA, .895 save percentage) need to be better, and so does the defense in front of them. Nashville isn't far out of a playoff spot but will need to clean things up defensively.
Two of the Predators' top-four scorers, Josi and Ryan Ellis (28 points), are defensemen. Filip Forsberg (33) and Matt Duchene (32) are the only forwards with at least 30 points, and that's a problem.
Pluses: Washington is first in the NHL standings and a healthy, Stanley Cup-winning group. The Capitals rank second on the penalty kill (84.5 percent) and fourth in goals scored (178). They've also won four straight games and have received contributions from everyone.
Alex Ovechkin is on a mission and will get to 700 NHL goals in a matter of games. Forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and Jakub Vrana (nine-game point streak), along with Carlson, are leading the offense. And rookie goalie Ilya Samsonov (15-2-1, 2.06 GAA, .927 save percentage) is getting his name in the Calder Trophy conversation.
Minuses: There's not many to choose from. One thing I'll say is they're better on the road (19-6-1) than at home (15-5-4). The other thing is that I'd expect the power play to be better. It's tied with the Minnesota Wild for 12th (20.5 percent) and 4-for-30 (13.3 percent) in its past eight games.
Pluses: They are 12-2-1 in their past 15 games, have finally hit their stride and playing at the level they did last season. During that 15-game stretch, Tampa Bay has allowed two goals or fewer eight times. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is back. The 2018-19 Vezina Trophy winner is 11-0-2 with a 2.04 GAA, .932 save percentage and two shutouts in his past 13 games.
The Lightning are getting production up and down the lineup. They have three players with at least 20 goals (Nikita Kucherov, 22; Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn, 20 each), and seven players with at least 30 points. That kind of depth is what separates good teams from great teams.
Minuses: It's been a tough drop off from Vasilevskiy to backup Curtis McElhinney in net. McElhinney is 5-6-2 with a 3.10 GAA and .902 save percentage. He knows he needs to be better. Remember, the Lightning signed McElhinney as an unrestricted free agent July 1 and traded Louis Domingue, who was 21-5-0 with a 2.88 GAA and .908 save percentage last season, to the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 1.
Pluses: Anze Kopitar has been their most consistent player all season. He played in the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game and has 43 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 50 games this season. He's one of four Kings who's played at least nine games with a positive rating (plus-1) and has done it all from the power play to the penalty kill to face-offs.
I've also liked what I've seen out of Alex Iafallo. The forward has 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 50 games after he had 33 (15 goals, 18 assists) last season. He's done well after taking on a larger role offensively.
Minuses: Jonathan Quick still hasn't found his game. We know he's a world-class goalie and a two-time Stanley Cup champion, but he has 11 wins in 31 games, a 3.01 GAA and .896 save percentage. The Kings haven't helped him that much in front, but it's been tough to watch Los Angeles struggle the past few seasons after being an elite team in the earlier part of the 2010s.
Special teams often wins and loses hockey games and the Kings are 30th on the penalty kill (73.4 percent) and 26th on the power play (16.2). Combine that with how they've scored the third-fewest goals in the NHL (125) and it's not hard to see why they are where they are in the standings.