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 Washington Capitals are trying to keep pace in the race for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Philadelphia Flyers are just trying to get back on track so they maybe can think about a run to catch up in the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Confidence on one side, desperation on the other. That's the matchup NBCSN is offering in its latest edition of the Wednesday Night Rivalry series.
The Flyers are coming off a 7-3 trouncing of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, a win that should provide a measure of confidence that the club has been lacking this season. They played against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and crushed them.
The Capitals are coming off a 2-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, a win that falls in line with how they have been playing for nearly six weeks, dating back to Dec. 4, when they beat the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 to start the 13-1-4 run they're currently on.
As we do every week with the Rivalry Night game, let's break down the matchup:
Pluses: That was a huge win against the Lightning and it showed the plus for the Flyers is they can score. The plus is Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. They can score and make plays.
The fact they beat the Lightning in a dominating fashion, if they can't get confidence from that there is a problem. They're not going to be putting up seven on a nightly basis, but they should at least believe in themselves as a team that they can play with the top teams and score with the top teams.
The Lightning are really fast and the Flyers were able to play at the same speed. It stands to reason if the Lightning are that quick and you can play at that same speed, you should be able to do it more often.
The problem for the Flyers is they have just been so inconsistent this season. They've been maddeningly inconsistent, but that game Monday proved they can get to the net and score as well as any team in the NHL.
Minuses: The big challenge for the Flyers is the defense; it's just something they haven't fully addressed. They have addressed it by piecemeal, but that's it.
And I don't want to hear too much about Kimmo Timonen being out, because while he's had an excellent career, he's also 38 years old.
I also don't want to hear anybody use the name Chris Pronger as an excuse. Yes he got hurt, but come on, how long ago was that now?
I'm looking for a homegrown defenseman, a stud they can build around. Where is that guy?
Let's just say defense is seldom a position of strength for the Flyers from a developmental standpoint, from a drafting standpoint, you name it. Everybody looks at the Flyers and their carousel of goalies and says the easy fix is in net, but it's bigger than that because the goalie can't play offense too.
You can't put a price tag on having a proper defense core, and that's about drafting and developing. Look at the Nashville Predators. They were deep enough to trade Kevin Klein, who has been great for the Rangers. The Flyers would love to have a guy like Klein.
As a result, the Flyers struggle to play with speed on a consistent basis. They did it against Tampa Bay, but they haven't done it consistently. That makes what players like Giroux and Voracek are doing this season all the more impressive. It really does.
What would happen if the Flyers had top level defenseman back there? What if they had an Oliver Ekman-Larsson or a Keith Yandle? What kind of numbers would Giroux and Voracek be running then? Think about it.
Pluses: You have to respect how Alex Ovechkin is playing. I also respect his openness this season. He has had an open mind all season and has been willing to do and try different things that are out of the norm and somewhat out of character for him. That's been huge for the Capitals.
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 37
SOG: 199 | +/-: 10
In the past, one thing you can say for the most part with Ovechkin is it hasn't been for a lack of trying. He's an effort superstar, but he's had a lot of coaches. There are a lot of people that have asked him to do a lot of different things in his own game. He's made some nice adjustments along the way. He made some nice adjustments under Adam Oates
, but clearly he is different under Barry Trotz
The bottom line for Ovechkin is he's putting it all together and I think he's just gotten a few more lessons from Trotz than from any other coach he's had. He's recognizing even more why those things matter and how they matter. In doing that, he knows he doesn't have to be great every night, but there are areas where he can still be a difference maker every night. His success is no longer dependent killing himself to get that production on a game-to-game basis, but if he plays within the rhythm of the game and how the Capitals want to play, he will still get his chances. That's a big difference, and the fact that he's embraced that says a lot to me.
We hear a lot about how getting players like Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik has helped change the culture within the Capitals dressing room, but give Ovechkin some credit there too. No room is easy to come into when it already has superstars, especially given the size of what Ovechkin represents. That Ovechkin has opened it up and allowed Orpik and Niskanen to have the impact they're having without running interference on them says a lot about Ovechkin's growth.
Ovechkin's openness is something I don't think enough people are talking about this year. He's far more secure.
Minuses: I don't really have a minus for the Capitals right now. They are 13-1-4 since Dec. 4. There is no minus. They're winning in different ways every night. They're playing within the flow of how they want to play and yet they're still creating offensively.
The only potential minus is if they default back to what they used to be, but they haven't shown signs of that. It's one thing to make adjustments, but it's easier to make adjustments when you're getting the results the Capitals have been getting.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Flyers defense
I want to see how the Flyers are able to defend. I know the Capitals can defend, but can the Flyers defend the Capitals?
2. Capitals consistency
I want to see what type of a game Washington plays. Will the Capitals continue to play this honest game they're playing, or will they get sucked into a different game? The Flyers can do that to teams. The Lightning got sucked into it. They weren't as fast and they weren't as disciplined. They got sucked into a Wild, Wild West game. They got sucked into a game they're not accustomed to playing. Will that happen with the Capitals?
3. Mike Green
This is an underrated thing, but Green's situation is interesting being that he's on the third defense pair. He's Washington's fifth defenseman now, and it works for him. The Capitals have insulated Green, which I think is genius. He doesn't have to match up defensively against a lot of the premier opposing players, because that's not his strong suit anyway. They can then take advantage of him in an offensive role and use him extensively on the power play. I like how they have him slotted this year. It's a little wrinkle that makes a difference.