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,” each the second game of a two-game series.
The Chicago Blackhawks (8-5-4) seek their sixth win in seven games when they play the Detroit Red Wings (4-10-3) at Little Caesars Arena (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Then the Winnipeg Jets (9-5-1) play the Edmonton Oilers (9-8-0) at Rogers Place (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, SNW, TSN3).
Here are my breakdowns of the games:
Pluses: Patrick Kane leads Chicago with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 17 games. Two other players, Alex DeBrincat (16 points) and Dominik Kubalik (14 points) have scored more than 10 points. Those three forwards also are a big reason the Blackhawks’ power play ranks third in the NHL (32.7 percent).
Kevin Lankinen leads NHL rookie goalies with a .925 save percentage (minimum two games played), and is tied with Vitek Vanecek of the Washington Capitals for first with six wins. Lankinen is expected to start Wednesday after Malcolm Subban made 27 saves in Chicago’s 3-2 overtime win at Detroit on Monday. Lankinen has been a big surprise this season and one of their best players.
Minuses: The Blackhawks still are without their captain, forward Jonathan Toews, who hasn’t played all season because of an illness. That’s always going to be a big loss, but missing a veteran especially is tough with their very youthful lineup. They’re also without Brent Seabrook, one of the best defensemen in Blackhawks history, who hasn’t played this season because of a lower back injury.
Although each of the Blackhawks’ past four wins has been by one goal, they’re generally not a team that plays to win 2-1 or 1-0. If they can tighten up defensively, they’ll be a much tougher team to play against.
Pluses: Forwards Dylan Larkin (four goals, five assists) and Anthony Mantha (five goals, four assists), and defenseman Filip Hronek (nine assists) lead the Red Wings with nine points each. Those three have emerged as franchise players, but it’s usually not a good sign when a defenseman is tied for the scoring lead, and 17 games into the season no one has scored more than 10 points.
The wins may not be there for goalie Thomas Greiss, but he’s kept the Red Wings in every game. Despite his 1-9-3 record he has a 2.90 goals-against average and hasn’t allowed more than three goals in any of his 13 games this season.
Minuses: The Red Wings have not gotten much production from their defensemen, with four goals combined by the eight who have played at least one game. Being in the early stages of rebuild can be tough and they just aren’t scoring enough; the Red Wings are averaging 2.06 goals per game, 30th in the NHL. It doesn’t help that forward Tyler Bertuzzi out with an injury. He’s tied with Mantha for the Detroit lead with five goals but has missed the past eight games.
The Red Wings have not fared well on special teams. The power play is 30th in the NHL (7.6 percent) and the penalty kill is 27th (73.5 percent). If either of those units were more effective, the Red Wings could be on the winning end of more close games.
Pluses: What a game the Jets and Oilers played Monday. The Jets held on for a 6-5 win against the Oilers in a battle between two great offenses. Center Mark Scheifele is fifth in the NHL with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 15 games and forward Nikolaj Ehlers is tied with Montreal Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli for third in the NHL with 10 goals. The Jets also have gotten strong contributions from forwards Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp, who has been an offensive surprise this season with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 15 games.
Though the focus mostly has been on the Jets offense, and rightfully so, let’s not forget about the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, goalie Connor Hellebuyck. He is 7-4-1 with a 2.58 GAA and a .917 save percentage in 12 games, including 40 saves on Monday. It’s not easy playing against some of the high-powered offenses in the Scotia North Division, but Hellebuyck has done well.
Minuses: I’d like to see more consistency. They have one three-game winning streak (Jan. 19-23) and one two-game winning streak (Feb. 2-4), and seem to follow impressive wins with difficult losses. The offense isn’t the problem, but it would be nice to see them lock down defensively against some of these teams in the division.
It will also be interesting to see how forward Pierre-Luc Dubois fits in. He has no points in two games and has missed the past two because of a lower-body injury. There’s no question he’ll add to their center depth when he gets acclimated.
Pluses: They have the top two scorers in the NHL in forwards Connor McDavid (30 points) and Leon Draisaitl (26 points). The offense runs through them, and rightfully so. Surprisingly, their next highest scorer is defenseman Tyson Barrie (14 points). I would expect the offense to come from forwards Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto soon.
Prior to getting pulled after allowing four goals on 11 shots in 22:31 Monday, goalie Mike Smith had played great since his return from injured reserve. In the two previous games, he was 2-0-0 and allowed one goal on 66 shots. This is what the Oilers expect to see from Smith moving forward.
Minuses: Special teams were great for the Oilers last season when they had the best power play in the NHL (29.5 percent) and were second on the penalty kill (84.4 percent). So far this season, they are 10th on the power play (25.4 percent) and 23rd on the penalty kill (74.5 percent).
Two of their top five scorers are defensemen. In addition to Barrie, Darnell Nurse is tied for fourth with 13 points (six goals, seven assists). The Oilers would be a more difficult team to play against if they had any secondary scoring from their forwards not named McDavid or Draisaitl.