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 Boston Bruins look to keep rolling when they play at the New York Rangers on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS) in the first of eight games between the teams this season.
Boston (8-1-2) has won three straight and is 7-0-1 in its past eight games. New York (4-5-2) had its four-game point streak (3-0-1) end with a 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday.
Here’s my breakdown of the game.
Pluses: It starts with the top line, and forward David Pastrnak, who was named NHL First Star of the Week after he scored seven points (five goals, two assists) in three games from Feb. 1-7. He has scored eight points in four games this season, and Patrice Bergeron (six goals, nine assists) and Brad Marchand (seven goals, eight assists) each has 15 points. Let’s not forget Pastrnak (hip) and Marchand (sports hernia) each had offseason surgery.
Despite the departures of defensemen Zdeno Chara, who signed a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals on Dec. 30, and Torey Krug, who agreed to a seven-year contract with the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 9, the Bruins still have looked tough. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy leads them with 10 penalty minutes, and defensemen Jeremy Lauzon (28 hits), Kevan Miller (23) and Connor Clifton (21) have been physical on opponents.
Minuses: Although they have allowed an average of 2.18 goals per game, tied with the Colorado Avalanche for second-fewest in the NHL (Tampa Bay Lightning, 1.82), the offense ranks 14th with an average of 3.09 goals per game and has been heavily reliant on the top line. David Krejci (nine assists) and Nick Ritchie (four goals, five assists) each has scored nine points, but no other forward outside of the big three has scored more than five points.
And besides McAvoy, who has scored 10 points (one goal, nine assists), they haven’t gotten much offense from their defensemen. The six defensemen besides McAvoy to play at least one game have combined for 11 points (two goals, nine assists).
Pluses: Artemi Panarin is one of the best players in the NHL and the forward has picked up where he left off last season. He has scored 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 11 games after he scored 93 points (32 goals, 63 assists) in 69 games and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP last season.
I also like what I’ve seen from defenseman K’Andre Miller. He has been really composed for a rookie and has a high level of efficiency for his game. And I know goalie Alexandar Georgiev is making the start Wednesday, his first since Jan. 30, but goalie Igor Shesterkin has played well, allowing two or fewer goals in each of his past four starts.
Minuses: Forward Mika Zibanejad hasn’t hit his stride this season. He has scored three points (one goal, two assists) in 11 games after he set NHL-career highs in goals (41) and points (75) last season. The Rangers also aren’t getting the same kind of production offensively from their defensemen, who have combined for three goals this season. Last season they got 44 goals from defensemen, tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for second-most in the NHL (St. Louis Blues, 45).
The Rangers still are looking for the consistency they had toward the end of last season. And they rank 30th in the NHL in face-off percentage at 43.2 percent. It’s hard to drive play when you aren’t winning face-offs, so that’s something they need to improve upon. That will be a challenge against the Bruins, who lead the NHL at 56.7 percent.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Who gets the matchup for the Rangers against the Bruins top line?
2. How will Georgiev play in his first start in two weeks?
3. Will the defense step up offensively for either team?