Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the “Wednesday Night Hockey” games on NBCSN in his Weekes on the Web blog.
The St. Louis Blues (21-19-6) seek their third straight win when they play at the Minnesota Wild (31-13-3) in the first game of a doubleheader on “Wednesday Night Hockey” (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Then the Colorado Avalanche (31-11-4) look to move within two points of the first-place Vegas Golden Knights (34-11-2), who have won nine straight, in the Honda West Division (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN) when they visit T-Mobile Arena.
Here’s my breakdown of the games:
Pluses: They started to gain some momentum by winning the past two against the Avalanche, and now play three straight at the Wild. Forward Ryan O’Reilly has scored six points (three goals, three assists) in his past two games and leads the Blues with 20 goals. Vladimir Tarasenko has scored 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 22 games and the Blues are a deeper team offensively since the forward returned to the lineup from offseason shoulder surgery March 6.
It’s been a struggle for goalie Jordan Binnington this season, but the Blues are hoping he can gain some confidence and play like the Binnington from 2017-18. If St. Louis makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he’s likely going to be a big reason why.
Minuses: The Blues have won at least 23 games at home each of the past seven seasons, but are 9-11-4 at Enterprise Center this season, including losing 11 of 12 (1-8-3) from Feb. 4-April 7. I know this game is on the road, where they are 12-8-2, but they play four of their final seven games of the season at home, making success there pivotal as the season winds down.
The Blues have been very inconsistent. They have followed winning streaks with losing streaks and haven’t been able to stop one loss from snowballing. They have had five losing streaks of at least three games, and went 2-8-4 from March 6-April 5. It’s tough to recover from stretches like that and reach the postseason.
Pluses: General manager Bill Guerin has helped engineer a complete transformation of the Wild. After losing in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season, the Wild are right there with the Golden Knights and Avalanche atop the West. It helps when you have a player like forward Kirill Kaprizov, who is must-watch hockey.
The Wild are a very balanced, four-line team now, something they haven’t been in the past. They have seven players who have scored at least 20 points and nine who have scored at least seven goals. And the goaltending, with Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen, has been among the best in the NHL after Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock struggled for them last season.
Minuses: The power play has gotten better since a brutal start to the season but is 22nd in the NHL (18.6 percent). The Wild started the season 5-for-66 (7.6 percent) in their first 20 games but are 22-for-79 (27.8 percent) in 27 games since then. They have scored at least one power-play goal in 10 of their past 13 games, a reason they are 10-2-1 during that stretch. It will have to continue to be a strength, especially during the playoffs when they likely will play Colorado or Vegas in the first round, and we know how good those offenses are.
Pluses: General manager Joe Sakic and coach Jared Bednar and his staff have done an outstanding job in constructing the roster and getting the most out of their players. The Avalanche could be the deepest team in the NHL at all positions. They roll four solid lines and three defense pairs that can play against anybody. And in goal, Philipp Grubauer is one of the best when healthy.
Nathan MacKinnon is having another Hart Trophy-type season and could be a finalist for the NHL most valuable player award again. And acquiring goalies Dubnyk and Jonas Johansson has proven to be very beneficial for them with Grubauer out.
Minuses: The only negative for them is that they still are without Grubauer, who has missed the past four games after he was placed in NHL COVID-19 protocol April 14. He is a Vezina Trophy contender and ranks among the NHL leaders in wins (25, second), goals-against average (2.00, second), save percentage (.920, 10th) and shutouts (five, tied for first) among goalies to play at least 20 games. Grubauer was removed from the protocol list April 22 and Bednar said Tuesday he’s hopeful the goalie could play against the San Jose Sharks on Friday.
Pluses: They have perhaps the best goaltending duo in the NHL in Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. And a very deep corps of defensemen, led by Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez, each of whom also can contribute offensively.
There’s not much I can say about Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty that hasn’t been said already. They are two of the best forwards in the NHL, and each is averaging more than 1.00 points per game this season; Stone has scored 53 points (18 goals, 35 assists) in 46 games, Pacioretty 47 points (22 goals, 25 assists) in 45 games.
And the Golden Knights are ranked in the top 10 in the NHL in goals scored (159, seventh), goals against (101, first) and penalty-killing percentage (86.1 percent, tied for first).
Minuses: I have no negatives for them right now as they have won nine straight and are clicking on all cylinders.