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 will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
My, my, my. What a difference six years makes.
Led by an incredible commitment to greatness starting with their owner Rocky Wirtz, their president John McDonough, their general manager Stan Bowman and their coaching staff led by coach Joel Quenneville, the Chicago Blackhawks continue to be the standard for a dynasty and excellence in the modern salary-cap era.
It also helps when you have a collection of potential Hall of Famers in Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith.
The Philadelphia Flyers, who lost to the Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, are in a rebuild mode. It's being led by the captain Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. After that, their lack of depth both up front and on the back end make this challenging not only for owner Ed Snider but also for the passionate Flyers fan base.
The Blackhawks visit the Flyers (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) on Wednesday. Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: We were interested to see how some of the Blackhawks' new players assimilated and right away the chemistry between Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov has been incredible. Those guys are playing straight-up keep away. Anisimov is extremely important because Bowman identified him as being able to be the No. 2 center.
Panarin has been beyond impressive how he has played. His explosiveness, his puck skills, his hockey IQ, his offensive instincts, his puck control. All of those things are a perfect mesh for playing with Patrick Kane, which is why that line has had great success so far. The Toews-Hossa line looks good as well. You always know what you are getting from those guys.
Chicago still looks like Chicago. They traded for defenseman Trevor Daley after losing Johnny Oduya in free agency but he's an exceptional skater and more competitive than people realize. He's been a nice piece to get in place of Oduya.
The best thing about the Blackhawks is they want to be the Blackhawks every night, and that always spells trouble for the rest of the League. There is zero complacency in that group. Not to mention they continue to be in excellent health.
Minuses: I don't know if the Blackhawks have one weakness, let alone three. If you NHL fans know what they are, tweet me @KevinWeekes.
Pluses: The Flyers lost 7-1 against the Florida Panthers on Saturday, but credit to them, they responded with a shutout against Florida on Monday.
Since goalie Steve Mason has come to the Flyers, he has played very well. But now they bring in Michal Neuvirth, who general manager Ron Hextall was very adamant about bringing in as a 1A guy that could play as many as 30 games, not only as a guy who is going to get 15 games. Neuvirth outdueled Roberto Luongo on Monday.
Giroux, Simmonds and Voracek each impact the game in a unique way. Giroux is a super-gifted offense player, and is a little more competitive than people give credit for. Next to Corey Perry, Simmonds is the second best net-front player in the League. He's willing to take the abuse and pay the price for his teammates. Get screens, tips, deflections. He's led that team in scoring before. Voracek is a player that offensively can beat you in so many ways. We saw glimpses of what he could be in Columbus, but he has really blossomed and embraced playing in Philadelphia.
Also, the Flyers are still able to score goals and produce offensively despite lack of depth up front and on defense.
Minuses: The biggest challenge for the Flyers in this rebuild is that their defense is so thin. In a game like this against the Blackhawks, there is a big contrast in defense. They have some young kids that are developing on defense, but none that are really there yet where they can make an impact.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Blackhawks' skill and ability to make plays
The Blackhawks have already shown this season their veterans and rookies are capable of making big plays at big times.
2. Flyers' intensity
You know that the Flyers will be physical, but will they get into penalty trouble?
3. Style of play
This will be a real stark contrast of styles between the elite finesse and skill of the Blackhawks vs. the physical skill of the Flyers.