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.
It’s a doubleheader on “Wednesday Night Hockey” this week.
First, the New York Rangers (6-7-3) play the Philadelphia Flyers (8-4-3) at Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Then, the Los Angeles Kings (8-6-3) face the St. Louis Blues (10-7-2) at Enterprise Center (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Here’s my breakdown of the games:
Pluses: The goaltending has been good recently. Alexandar Georgiev made 20 saves in a 3-2 shootout win at the Flyers on Thursday and Igor Shesterkin made 26 saves in a 4-1 win at the Washington Capitals on Saturday. The Rangers have won two straight, each on the road. That’s a good sign because 22 of their remaining 40 games this season are road games.
The New York penalty kill has been a bright spot, ranking fifth in the NHL (85.7 percent). That’s been a big reason the Rangers have held opponents to two regulation goals or fewer in six of their past eight games.
Minuses: It will be a big challenge offensively without forward Artemi Panarin, who has taken a leave of absence in response to a story being reported in Russia alleging he had a physical altercation with an 18-year-old woman in Riga, Latvia, in 2011. Panarin leads the Rangers with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 14 games this season. The only other Rangers player to score at least 10 points is forward Pavel Buchnevich with 12 (four goals, eight assists) in 16 games. The Rangers also need to get the power play going; they rank 28th in the NHL (12.9 percent) in that department.
Mika Zibanejad scored an empty-net goal against the Capitals and hopefully that can springboard him. The center has scored two goals in 16 games this season after an NHL career-high 41 last season. There already was pressure on him before the Panarin news, and now he’ll be counted on even more.
Pluses: James van Riemsdyk has been great this season. The forward leads Philadelphia with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 15 games. Center Kevin Hayes (15 points; six goals, nine points) and forward Joel Farabee (14 points; eight goals, six assists) rank second and third, respectively. The Flyers rank sixth in the NHL in goals per game (3.40) and have done it without several of their top players contributing.
Forward Claude Giroux is expected to play after missing the past two games in NHL COVID-19 protocol. The captain brings so much to Philadelphia, and if he’s in, will be a welcome addition.
Minuses: It has been tough with a handful of players in NHL COVID-19 protocol, including Giroux, forwards Travis Konecny and Jakub Voracek, and defenseman Justin Braun. The Flyers are 1-2-2 in their past five games after opening the season 7-2-1, and are 0-1-1 since returning from a 10-day layoff, including a 7-3 loss to the Boston Bruins in the Honda NHL Outdoors Sunday.
I know goalie Carter Hart‘s numbers aren’t good (5-3-3, 3.68 goals-against average, .891 save percentage in 11 games), but Philadelphia’s struggles should not be pinned on him. He’s one of the best goalies in the NHL and the Flyers haven’t played nearly well enough in front of him defensively.
Pluses: Every member of Los Angeles’ veteran core has produced. Center Anze Kopitar leads the Honda West Division with 21 points (four goals, 17 assists), and forward Dustin Brown is tied with San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture for the division goal-scoring lead with 10. Drew Doughty leads the division’s defensemen with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) and goalie Jonathan Quick had a 31-save shutout against the Blues on Monday, his second shutout in three games.
I’ve liked what I’ve seen from the new wave of Kings talent, including centers Gabriel Vilardi, Adrian Kempe and Jaret Anderson-Dolan. They’ve helped Los Angeles rank 11th in the NHL in goals per game (3.12) after they were 30th last season (2.53).
Minuses: I would like to see the Kings’ shot metrics improve. They have averaged 28.5 shots per game and have allowed 31.2 per game; the net differential of minus-2.7 is tied for the fourth-worst in the NHL. It would be great to see them improve upon their five-game winning streak, during which they’ve outscored their opponents 19-6, but it’s hard to string together victories when consistently being outshot.
Pluses: Justin Faulk is back to looking like the player who skated in the NHL All-Game three times (2015-17). He’s scored five goals in 19 games, matching his total in 69 games last season, and his plus-16 rating is tied with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner for second in the NHL, behind Montreal Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson (plus-18). Faulk and defenseman Torey Krug (11 points, plus-11), have helped the Blues offset the loss of Alex Pietrangelo, who signed with the Vegas Golden Knights as a free agent on Oct. 12.
We know how good center Ryan O’Reilly is, but forward David Perron has been the Blues’ offensive force this season, leading them with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 19 games, including two game-winning goals. He definitely has picked up the slack in the absence of forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who has yet to play this season because of shoulder surgery.
Minuses: Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who is out for the season because of a knee injury, is the latest injury for the Blues, who also are without Tarasenko and forwards Ivan Barbashev (ankle surgery), Robert Thomas (thumb), Tyler Bozak (upper body) and Jaden Schwartz (lower body), and defenseman Colton Parayko (undisclosed).
Since opening the season 3-1-1 at home, the Blues have lost five of six at Enterprise Center (1-4-1) and don’t seem to be playing with the same intensity as they have the past two seasons, including in 2018-19, when they won the Stanley Cup for the first time in their history.