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.
Size versus speed. A heavy team versus a fast team. That's what we have in store for us when the Boston Bruins visit the New York Rangers in NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry game (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVA).
The Bruins have shown their power of late, winning eight of their past 10 games. The Rangers put their speed game on display against the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers in recent games, getting back to what they do best.
Boston vs. New York. Gotta love it.
Here is my breakdown:
Pluses: The No. 1 plus is Tuukka Rask is Tuukka Rask again. Not only has he been consistent and playing to his form, but he's also been great to the point where he's able to steal some games or simply just make game changing saves.
I think Rask's play goes hand in hand with the Bruins recommitment to defense and how they play without the puck.
Sometimes it's what's first; the chicken or the egg? In this instance with Rask, yes you could say he's playing his way and playing well, but you can make the argument that by them playing their way it allows him to play his way.
It comes down to trust between Rask and the guys in front of him.
Nowadays he can trust and say he wants to be aggressive here, and know the guys are going to take away the passing option. He can trust and say he wants to be a little more conservative here, and the 'D' is going to box out his guy and not allow him to poke home a rebound.
If you look a couple years back when the Bruins were at their best, remember how aggressive Tim Thomas was playing. It's the trust that allowed him to be aggressive. It's the same thing under Rask. When the Bruins have been at their best, they have been reading how to play around him, such as where to be on rebounds, where to be when he handles the puck, where to be in terms of just allowing him to be shooter focused or puck carrier focused. Then it's him being able to stay confident in that position, being with his toes or heels above the blue paint, being more aggressive.
The two go hand in hand because that's really the foundation of their game.
Earlier in the season I was seeing Rask challenge at times, but unfortunately there were times when the Bruins got passed around and nobody would box out or pick up a stick. As a result of that it was really tough for him.
Rask and the guys in front of him didn't seem to be on the same page before; they are now.
Minuses: The one minus right now is they're still not a dynamic offensive team. A lot of their offense comes by way of their defense. There is not one player that's a gamebreaker. There is not one electrifying guy that can pull you out of your seat.
The Bruins don't have anyone like Tyler Seguin or Alex Ovechkin or Rick Nash, ironically enough. They don't have a guy that is that dominant offensively that every time he gets on the ice you're watching him. They don't have that guy.
You know what, maybe they get him by the trade deadline and maybe David Pastrnak becomes that, but it's a lot to put on the shoulders of an 18-year-old player. The kid has tons of skill, I like watching him play, and I think he has the tools to be a really good player, but it's too much to put on him too soon.
As good as Patrice Bergeron is, and he's all-world at everything, he's not a gamebreaker. He's not a guy that is going to pull you out of your seat like Patrick Kane. They don't have a guy at that level yet.
Left Wing - NYR
GOALS: 31 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 46
SOG: 179 | +/-: 19
: Well, Nash. This is an easy one.
The biggest thing for me with Nash now, and we talked about this on the NHL Network on Monday, is he's scoring goals in different ways and what is also underrated is how well he can play defensively. To have a guy as skilled as him on the penalty kill scoring shorthanded goals by being in good defensive position is huge. He can blow away a power play. He did that against the Panthers. That's underrated for a guy with 31 goals.
He's able to generate offense in so many different ways this year because he has willingness and a commitment to do it. He's attacking. He's hungry on the puck, hungry on the forecheck. He's challenging defensemen when he has the puck. He's cutting to the middle of the ice. He's attacking the goal line, getting to the front of the net for screens and tips.
When you're doing all those things consistently and you're as skilled, as big, and as talented as Nash is, it kind of makes sense when you look at the production.
Last season, Nash was the equivalent of a three-point shooter. He wasn't getting inside. His defensive instincts were still good, but he wasn't attacking. Now he's playing to his strengths and it's not a coincidence that he's getting results.
Minuses: My only challenge for the Rangers is when they play well they go through the middle of the ice and they use their speed, they shut the boards down and force turnovers. When they do that they're very impressive, but when they don't play well it means they aren't playing fast.
I know they have played well in a lot of games of late, but those games that they've lost it's because they haven't played fast. When they turned things around last season they started playing fast. Playing fast allowed them to get to the Stanley Cup Final.
Now, there have been times of late when they haven't played fast and I think some of that has to do with the play of their top defense pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
Those guys can impact a game so much, but you expect your top pairing to be your top pairing every single game. When it isn't, you struggle.
Look at Chicago with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. They are probably the best top pair in the League right now and they play like it just about 99 percent of the time. The same was true when it was Ryan Suter and Shea Weber for the Nashville Predators. They were the top pair until Suter went to the Minnesota Wild and they were the best pair in just about every game. You knew what you were getting every shift, every night.
Defense - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 11
SOG: 72 | +/-: 5
I don't think that McDonagh and Girardi are at that level, but they're very good players. They need to bring it every night. They need to be the best pair on the ice every night.
But I have seen them try to force plays into the middle of the ice, which is a sign that they probably recognize the Rangers are not playing fast and they're trying to speed it up.
The simple solution to that is a guy like McDonagh, a top skater in the NHL, just deciding to skate the puck instead of forcing it, or deciding to regroup and try it again.
Again, I'm going to go back to Chicago, but the Blackhawks do this so well. If a play they want is not there they look and say, "Can we dump it in, do a stretch pass and dump it in, or do we just skate it back, wait for some support and regroup?" They're not afraid of the regroup.
This is when a defense becomes so important at controlling possession, and doing things like that regrouping or skating the puck up I know are things Rangers coach Alain Vigneault would encourage. But don't force plays that aren't there. Keep the puck. It's the most important commodity on the ice.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Bruins trying to be physical
Being physical is Boston's game. When the Bruins are physical they are at their best and it sort of makes up for them not having a gamebreaking forward.
2. Rangers trying to play fast
Again, it's about speed for the Rangers, pushing the pace, quick breakouts. If they do that they'll be able to beat the Bruins down the ice and get scoring chances without worrying about taking too much punishment from the Bruins.
3. Goalie matchup
It was expected to be two Vezina Trophy winners with Rask and Henrik Lundqvist. But with Lundqvist out with an upper-body injury related to the throat injury he sustained Saturday, Cam Talbot will be forced into action.