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 this week on “Wednesday Night Hockey” with two great games.
First, Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers (1-3-0) play Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs (3-1-0) at Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Then, the Minnesota Wild (2-1-0) continue their season-opening road trip against the Anaheim Ducks (1-1-1) at Honda Center (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Here’s my breakdown of the games:
Pluses: McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have picked up where they left off after they were the top two scorers in the NHL last season with McDavid (three goals, two assists) and Draisaitl (five assists) each scoring five points in their first four games. Kailer Yamamoto (one goal, two assists) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (two goals, one assist) have scored three apiece.
Minuses: One issue has been going on for a while and that’s the lack of secondary scoring. The Oilers can’t always count on the big guys to score every night. Through four games, they have allowed 15 goals and are without goalie Mike Smith, who is on long-term injured reserve. The goaltending is going to have to turn its game up.
Pluses: Their big guys have been their big guys. John Tavares (six points; three goals, three assists), Mitchell Marner (six points; three goals, three assists), William Nylander (five points; two goals, three assists) and Matthews (four points; one goal, three assists), are all off to great starts. Joe Thornton has been a nice fit, playing wing instead of center, and Wayne Simmonds has provided some leadership and grit. I was impressed with Toronto’s past two games, wins against the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets.
Minuses: There haven’t been many negatives in the early part of the season for the Maple Leafs, but one thing they’d like to improve is their defensemen contributing offensively. Justin Holl has three assists but the other six who have played at least one game have combined for one goal and two assists. That includes Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie, who we know have offensive talent.
Pluses: Rookie forward Kirill Kaprizov has been as good as advertised and as good as I thought he’d be. He scored his first goal in overtime, a 4-3 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 14, and assisted on the game-winner in a 4-3 OT victory against the Kings two days later. Goalie Cam Talbot, who signed a three-year contract with the Wild on Oct. 9, has looked very good with a 2.27 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. They’ve won two out of three and play one more game on the road before six straight at home.
Minuses: The Wild have yet to score a power-play goal (0-for-16). Also, with goalie Alex Stalock injured, Kaapo Kahkonen is Talbot’s backup. He played five NHL games last season but none since Dec. 15, 2019, so it’ll be interesting to see how coach Dean Evason handles getting him some time.
Pluses: It’s a rebuilding season for the Ducks but they have been in games, with two of their three decided by one goal. Young players will get more ice time and experience. That includes Max Comtois, who has scored three of Anaheim’s four goals, and Sam Steel, who has two assists. The Ducks also have goalie John Gibson who made 34 saves in a 1-0 victory against the Wild on Monday.
Minuses: They’ve scored four goals in three games after finishing 29th in the NHL in goals per game last season (2.56) and last in 2018-19 (2.39). That needs to be fixed, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that the lack of goals has coincided with the lack of success on the power play, which is 0-for-5 after it was 30th last season (14.7 percent).