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Weekes: Pluses, minuses for Rivalry Night games

by Kevin Weekes

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 also will be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.

There are three games on the NHL schedule Wednesday and two of them will be on NBCSN:

* Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins at 8 p.m. ET

* Washington Capitals at San Jose Sharks at 10:30 p.m. ET

Let's break them down, with one plus and one minus for each team:

DETROIT at PITTSBURGH

Red Wings

Plus: The key for the Red Wings has been depth. Up front they roll four lines. I thought their back end would be their Achilles heel but they're deeper there with some call-ups such as Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet. Goaltender Petr Mrazek has come up and it's not a surprise how well he's played in the absence of Jimmy Howard considering his pedigree. That all speaks to depth. In addition, quietly Justin Abdelkader has improved as a player. Instead of being a forecheck-only energy player, he's making plays too. He's been really good. Overall I just think their depth is very impressive.

Minus: I don't have a minus for Detroit right now. The Red Wings have exceeded expectations. Their organization is very deep. They have lots of guys who are a call-up away from impressing. I don't have a minus for their team right now based on how they're playing.

Penguins

Plus: The biggest plus for the Penguins is goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Period. End of story. Eight shutouts so far this season. Are you kidding me? Especially when you consider that the Penguins aren't a team that is air-tight defensively, particularly with their injuries. They've done a better job, but they're missing Christian Ehrhoff and Olli Maatta. When you go back to all the injuries the Penguins have had, the past five years even, these are not perimeter players who have been out. We're talking Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Pascal Dupuis, Paul Martin and now Ehrhoff and Maatta. Fleury has been the constant. Leading the league in shutouts this season is just awesome. He's the plus.

Minus: Man-games lost. That number is 236 and counting. They really haven't seen their full team. They haven't been besieged by injuries the way the Columbus Blue Jackets have, but they're not far off. That's a big one for me. Injuries have prevented them from being fully consistent. But given the scope of the injuries you could argue that they've played well in spite of them.

Three things to watch

1. Power plays

The Red Wings' power play is 30.2 percent in the past 40 games. The Penguins' power play has scuffled recently, going 1-for-17 in its past six games. But it's still seventh in the NHL at 21.8 percent. The more disciplined team has best chance of winning this game.

2. Depth game

Can Pittsburgh get the same production from its bottom-six group of forwards as Detroit has been getting from its bottom six? Depth will be key. The Red Wings have more of it.

3. Matchup game

How does Red Wings coach Mike Babcock deploy his lineup because he has to pick his poison on matching against Sidney Crosby's line and Evgeni Malkin's line. Who plays against who? That's game-within-the-game stuff that is interesting to watch.

WASHINGTON at SAN JOSE

Capitals

Plus: You have to start with Alex Ovechkin and work back from there. I don't want to be redundant about Ovechkin, but in a word he's been great. They're also winning games in different ways and they're comfortable playing different games and different styles on a period-by-period and game-by-game basis. You have to be able to do that to go deep in the playoffs. They've made really good adjustments. It's been impressive to watch and it's kind of been on the fly. They've done a lot of retooling but they're comfortable playing tight games, physical games and skill games. It makes them a versatile team right now.

Marcus Johansson
Center - WSH
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 31
SOG: 94 | +/-: 3
Minus: Their depth players can be better and are better than they're producing offensively. I'm talking about Marcus Johansson (no goals in 10 games), Joel Ward (no goals in 13 games), Brooks Laich (no goals in 15 games), Tom Wilson (no goals in 30 games). The good thing is they're getting production from their top-six group of forwards. That's masking what they're not getting from the bottom six. They can't be so heavily dependent on a small group of forwards if they want to win in the playoffs.

Sharks

Plus: The consistency the Sharks are getting from Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski has been the biggest plus. Sharks coach Todd McLellan knows what he's going to get from Pavelski and Burns all the time. Burns and Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien switched positions this season and they both were All-Stars. It's really difficult to go from forward to defense, but Burns has done it and he shows up to play every night. Pavelski is the same way without the position switch.

Minus: It has to be their overall team inconsistency. They're a team that leaves you wanting more. For stretches I think they're going to be elite and for stretches I wonder if they can make the playoffs. For stretches I think they're going to be OK but nothing more. There is no consistency. They have solid players, elite players, good young players, but where is the consistency? The sum of the parts isn't always there in terms of how they play on a nightly basis. They've been a curious case for me all season. I'm looking for them to find their elite consistency and ride that into the playoffs. For now they have inconsistently put themselves in a decent position.

Three things to watch

1. Start for Washington

To beat the Sharks at home almost always you need a great start because that's a difficult building. Their fans are amazing and SAP Center has an old-school feel to it. I'm sure Capitals coach Barry Trotz knows that from his time in the Western Conference.

2. Who is playing against Ovechkin?

Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are out; that's two of San Jose's top-four defensemen. So who does San Jose use against Ovechkin? And be sure to watch the stretch passes. Washington hasn't cheated this season but those guys can make the stretch pass work.

3. Physical game

Is San Jose ready to play a physical game and can Washington keep it up? Playing physical is how the Los Angeles Kings play the Sharks and it usually favors the Kings. The Capitals have that physical element to their game this season. Will they exert it? Will the Sharks be able to hold up against it? You have to earn your ice against Washington now.

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