Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Hockey game in his Weekes on the Web blog.
This week, it’s a doubleheader on Wednesday Night Hockey. First, the Boston Bruins (26-15-5) visit the Philadelphia Flyers (17-23-6) at Wells Fargo Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN). Then, the San Jose Sharks (28-13-7) visit the Arizona Coyotes (20-22-3) at Gila River Arena (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Here’s my breakdown of the games:
Pluses: Boston has one of the best, if not the best, goalie tandems in the NHL. Between starter Tuukka Rask (13-8-3, 2.44 goals-against average, .919 save percentage) and backup Jaroslav Halak (13-7-2, 2.39 GAA, .924 SV%) who’s played as well as any starter, the Bruins are in every game. It’s a great sign that there’s no dropoff in play when you start your backup goalie.
Their stars are playing like stars. The top line of Brad Marchand, (49 points) Patrice Bergeron (39 points) and David Pastrnak (54 points) have led the way, and they are finally healthy with Bergeron, and defensemen Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy back in the lineup.
Minuses: Forward Sean Kuraly has stepped up, but they need more from the bottom six. His 13 points are the most by anyone not on the top two lines, and that’s a problem. Becoming too reliant on the top lines is never a good thing.
Boston has one of the best power plays in the NHL (third at 27.9 percent), but their penalty kill ranks in the middle of the pack (11th, 80.9 percent). They’re 10-9-4 on the road, so let’s see if they can turn that around in Philadelphia.
Pluses: Center Claude Giroux is having a great year. He has 50 points and is picking up where he left off last season when he finished second to Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (108) in the NHL with 102 points. He has been their most consistent player this season by far. The second-highest scorer is forward Jakub Voracek with 37 points, followed by center Sean Couturier with 35.
Carter Hart is mature beyond his years on the ice. The rookie goalie has four wins, two off the team lead of six by Brian Elliott. He’s put in his time in the minors and is showing what he’s all about in the NHL. It’s never easy for a highly touted prospect to come into the League and perform well but he’s been doing that.
Minuses: It’s tough to be consistent when you’ve used as many goalies as they have, with seven, tying the NHL record for one season. Each goalie plays his own style and it’s hard for the team to change how they play based on who’s in net. It will be interesting to see if they trade a goalie once some of the injured ones return.
Wayne Simmonds is not the force he has been in years past. The forward has 21 points (15 goals, six assists), and five on the power play, and is minus-12 in 46 games. Perhaps the uncertainty of his future has played a part in the struggles – – he can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Pluses: Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns are two of the best defensemen in the game. Karlsson got off to a slow start but has amped up his game in the past month and is playing like the player the Sharks thought they were getting when they traded for him with the Senators in the offseason. He and Burns are nightmares for opposing teams.
Center Joe Pavelski does so much for this team, even if it’s not noticed by the average fan who just looks at his point totals, which have declined in the past few seasons.
Minuses: Martin Jones has been great recently but I think he can still reach the level that he was at two seasons ago. Hopefully, for the Sharks, Jones is at his best down the stretch and in the playoffs like he was a few seasons ago.
The Sharks have so many good players that it’s hard to give enough ice time to all of them. Take Kevin LeBanc. The forward has flown under the radar but plays less than 14 minutes per game because of how stacked the top three lines are.
Pluses: Clayton Keller is an all-star and it’s well deserved. He leads the Coyotes with 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) and has been their most consistent forward. If Arizona is going to get back in the Stanley Cup Playoff race, Keller likely will be a big reason why.
How about Conor Garland, who has combined grit and goals? The forward has six goals in his past five games and has shown he isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas and sacrifice his body for the good of the team. That’s always great to see and the rookie is proving he belongs in the lineup.
Minuses: The Coyotes have been too inconsistent. They started the season being shut out three times in four games before winning five straight. They’ve had five losing streaks of at least three games and three winning streaks of at least three games. They need to go on another winning streak to get back into the playoff race.
Arizona sent goalie Adin Hill to the American Hockey League, which I don’t understand since he was their best player with Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper out. Even though Kuemper has returned, I think Hill has proven he should be in the NHL and playing games for them, especially ones they need to win.