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.
Another good, old-fashioned, "we don't like you and you don't like us" rivalry game is on tap Wednesday night on NBCSN.
The Pittsburgh Penguins against the Washington Capitals, a Metropolitan Division classic made even more interesting by the standings and the fact the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline is looming at 3 p.m. ET on Monday.
Here is my analysis:
Pluses: Their depth players are more talented than before, and that's a huge thing going into the deadline and the stretch run.
I was talking to Dan Bylsma this past week at the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game and we talked about the Penguins' depth players. We talked about how they needed Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury and all the big names to win the Stanley Cup in 2009, but they also needed a guy like Maxime Talbot. They needed those depth players.
If you look at it now, they have guys like Nick Spaling and Blake Comeau and Steve Downie. These guys are talented players for their roles. They are talented depth players. The Penguins needed more of that and they have it now.
Downie, say what you want, I don't think he knows what type of a player he really can be. He loves to be physical and to toe that line, sometimes going over it, but he should play more of a skilled game because he can.
Comeau and Spaling are the same way. They can score and they can make plays. Their bottom-six overall is more talented. They have upgraded there.
Comeau is playing on their second line now with Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, and he's producing because he's good enough to go up that elevator and score. If Pascal Dupuis is healthy he's probably not in that spot, but Comeau got his chance and he's shown he's good enough.
It all speaks to an improved depth up front for the Penguins. They needed that after last season. That's what general manager Jim Rutherford was going for this summer. It's working out for the Penguins.
Minuses: I think my biggest minus for Pittsburgh right now is its consistency. Now I think you need to be objective, because we all know they have had a lot of injuries to key people to hurt that consistency.
Hornqvist was out for a while. Olli Maatta, who is amazing, is gone. Dupuis is gone. There are key pieces that have been injured this season, but every team has that happen, so within their group they have had inconsistencies that have hurt them.
Think of some of the losses they have had this year that have been lopsided.
* 5-0 against the Vancouver Canucks.
* 4-0 against the Nashville Predators.
* 4-0 against the Capitals.
* 5-2 against the New York Rangers
* 6-3 against the New York Islanders
I can visualize Crosby in the postgame scrums saying they weren't good enough, they weren't doing what they were supposed to be doing, they got beat, outplayed, out of character or whatever. I've seen that about five or six times at least. I remember some of them vividly.
They need to establish a better level of consistency.
Pluses: The biggest thing for Washington is it's getting the results from making adjustments under Barry Trotz.
Any time you go through any change and integrate something into your individual or team game, it takes a while to grasp it. If you're working on a new way to shoot or you're working on different edge work with your skating, those things don't just happen overnight and you don't get the results from doing it or making the adjustment overnight.
The thing for the Capitals is they're getting the results under Trotz. They're getting the results from what he is selling. That makes it more encouraging for him and for the team. When the coach is saying, "Hey guys, this is what we need to do and this is why we need to do it," and it happens through coaching, through videos, it's great, but that doesn't mean anything until you get results from it.
The Capitals are getting the results from the changes Trotz has made. They are a heavier team to play against. They are a better team defensively. They are a better team positionally. They have better team intensity. They're a more unselfish team.
Now the Washington Capitals are an improved team and coming out with points on a lot of nights. That makes all the difference in the world.
Minuses: This isn't necessarily a minus, but the Capitals first-line right wing is a hole that will need to be addressed either internally or externally. I'm not saying it has to be done before the trade deadline, but that would be nice if they're going to do it externally.
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 38 | ASST: 23 | PTS: 61
SOG: 299 | +/-: 12
What they have to figure out is who's that elite guy they can get to play with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.
Can they get Radim Vrbata? No, he's already gone.
Can they get James Neal? No, he's already gone.
They can get Jordan Eberle. But what are you giving up to get Jordan Eberle? Is Washington willing to pay the price? If so, look out.
That's the thing. Who is that right wing? Who is the first-line right wing that they can get. And perhaps is that guy on their team already?
Is it Tom Wilson? Is it Marcus Johansson? Is it Andre Burakovsky?
I love Wilson when he plays with those guys because he opens up space for them. He did it well early in the season. He opens lanes for Backstrom and Ovechkin to make plays. He does a lot of the dirty work. He'll hunt the puck down, retrieve the puck, forecheck, knock guys over.
Maybe it is Wilson, but is he ready for that time right now? That I don't know.
Again, this isn't a minus, but this is an area that needs to be addressed. They haven't filled that hole full-time yet.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Capitals physicality
We know the Capitals are going to be physical. That's how they play under Trotz. I don't know if there is a team in the Eastern Conference playing a heavier brand of team hockey right now. Watch that for sure.
2. Will Pittsburgh pay the price to be physical?
I'll go back to the Stadium Series game on Saturday. We talked on set about how we knew what to expect from the Los Angeles Kings and how physical they were going to be, but the question was can the San Jose Sharks match that and are they willing to pay the price?
Well when you look at it, San Jose did pay the price to match it. The Sharks didn't play on the outside. They dominated the second period. They weren't intimidated. They were driving the middle of the ice. They got in around Jonathan Quick, created traffic.
Will Pittsburgh be willing to do the same thing against Washington?
3. Will the Penguins play physical and smart?
Not only do the Penguins have to pay the price to be physical, can they do it and be disciplined? There have been times this season when they simply lose it. They lose their discipline and the penalties end up hurting them. It obviously can happen to them. They can't let it happen against the Capitals because the Capitals will carve them up.