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.
The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. Clearly this is an old school Original Six rivalry and if there ever is a definition of 'Rivalry Night,' this is it just based on history and longevity and all the great teams and players and the longstanding generations of fans that have made this one of the best rivalries in sports.
It's also a little preview of the 2016 Bridgestone Winter Classic, which isn't far away. This can certainly help lay some more bricks for this amazing rivalry but also pave some en route to the Jan. 1 game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens play the Wednesday Night Rivalry game a few weeks ahead of the 2016 Bridgestone Winter Classic. (Photo: Francois Lacasse/NHLI)
Boston (14-9-3) was 6-0-2 in its past eight games before a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday. Montreal (19-6-3) has lost two in a row and looks to avoid a three-game losing streak for the first time this season. It should be a great game at Bell Centre on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN). Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: The Bruins came off that Western Canadian road trip and as expected, we figured they'd come out a bit sluggish Monday night against the Nashville Predators at home. Although they scored the first goal, by the halfway point of the first period they just didn't look like themselves, which is understandable based on making that long trek back from the road trip.
The Bruins are playing a faster brand of hockey than we've seen. Monday aside, defenseman Zdeno Chara has been really good for them which is so critical. Of course we are seeing the benefits of having two healthy No. 1 centers in David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. Having those two healthy means everything to this team in all three zones but especially at center ice.
Their speed is a plus. Their ability to be more offensive is a plus and their power play, of course, is a plus. The Bruins have the highest power-play percentage in the League (30.6) and have scored a power-play goal in 16 games this season.
Minuses: Their penalty kill hasn't been good at all. They have allowed a power-play goal in 16 of 26 games this season and got touched up again Monday allowing two goals on seven chances. When you look at a guy like Chris Kelly who is injured, and them not defending as well 5-on-5 as they had plays a big part in that. Tuukka Rask not fully up to his Vezina Trophy-playing level yet plays a part in that. And I think the fact that they have become a more offensive team and don't have the likes of Gregory Campbell, Carl Soderberg and Dougie Hamilton to help kill penalties plays a part. Their personnel is very different not only up front as it pertains to offense or the blue line but I think that adversity impacts their penalty killing as well.
The Bruins have had a brutal schedule with six of the past eight on the road, including three games in four nights in Canada last week. Montreal could try and step on the gas pedal early, so Boston will need to start out fast
Pluses: It's been a dream season for them except for the nightmare of the injury to Carey Price, but just as a team, they have been outstanding. They have tons of depth at every position now starting in net. Mike Condon, a Massachusetts native, will play against his hometown team. I've talked about him a lot both in my blog and on the air, but he's done a really nice job in filling in for Price. When I've talked to him, Condon said he is very appreciative of where he is and how hard he has worked to get here and all that he has put in and his commitment to just learning what it takes to be a pro. This will be a nice opportunity for him.
Defensively, the Canadiens have played great. PK Subban and Andrei Markov have been amazing. Subban relishes these big games. The bigger the game, the better he plays. He's a plus-10 and has 21 points in 28 games and is among the leaders in scoring by defensemen. In general, their defense is much deeper and more balanced. The Canadiens also play fast and have a good power play (22.2 percent).
Up front, Max Pacioretty continues to show no effects of his knee injury that he had in the offseason, leading the team in goals with 13. Dale Weise has been a pleasant surprise tied for second on the team in goals (nine) which is certainly a nice feat for him as a complimentary depth player. He is certainly a lot more skilled than people have recognized and he has been an excellent fit in his time in Montreal.
Minuses: Montreal has lost two games in a row, but there haven't been many weaknesses. The only thing I would say is that the power play, which has been a big part of their success this season, is 0-for-7 in the past two games and probably why they lost each game by one goal.
When Price went down, it was looking like a huge minus, but Condon has played very well. If he were to get injured, then things could get complicated for Montreal. Backup Dustin Tokarski played 17 games last season although he has never been an everyday goalie. Prospect Zachary Fucale was called up earlier this season from St. John's of the American Hockey League but has yet to make his NHL debut.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Speed. This is a faster Bruins team. The Canadiens have owned the Bruins the last few years. Can Boston handle and counter the speed of Montreal?
2. Which power play will win out? Both teams are excellent with the man-advantage.
3. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron. Marchand usually plays well against the Canadiens and Bergeron is a Quebec native.