Pluses, minuses for Rangers-Islanders, Lightning-Ducks

NHL Network and ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes will offer his thoughts for big games each week throughout the season.

The New York Rangers (3-2-2) visit the New York Islanders (2-4-0) at UBS Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT, TVAS, SN NOW). Then the Tampa Bay Lightning (3-4-0) play the Anaheim Ducks (1-4-1) at Honda Center (10 p.m. ET; TNT, SN360, TVAS, BSSUNX, SN NOW).

Here’s my breakdown of the games.



Pluses: Artemi Panarin could be the best player in the NHL right now. The forward is tied for the NHL scoring lead with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in seven games. Center Mika Zibanejad continues to do what he’s done for the Rangers for some time with eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games. Goalie Igor Shesterkin has picked up where he left off last season and was great making 42 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, though I expect him to get the night off in favor of Jaroslav Halak on the second game of a back to back. 

Minuses: They didn’t play well in their previous two games, each a home loss (3-2 in overtime to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday; 5-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday). Even though they lost in the shootout Tuesday, it was a well-played game and they got a point. There’s a certain way the Rangers have to play under coach Gerard Gallant and that had been missing the past few games. Facing their crosstown rivals should amp things up a bit.

Video: SJS@NYR: Panarin hammers Fox’s dish into the twine


Pluses: For the most part, the goaltending has been good. Ilya Sorokin is 1-3-0, but has a 2.84 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. Captain Anders Lee leads them in scoring with seven points (four goals, three assists) and 22-year-old forward Oliver Wahlstrom (three goals), 22-year-old defenseman Noah Dobson (two goals) and 24-year-old forward Robin Salo (two goals) have chipped in. Also, they are a perfect 22-for-22 on the penalty kill.

Minuses: The Islanders seem to be one or two steps slow right now and haven’t found their speed. They’ve lost three straight, outscored 12-6 and have had slow starts in those games. It may take a little while before they adjust under new coach Lane Lambert, but I expect it will happen. The schedule also isn’t friendly right now, with three games in four nights against the Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and Avalanche.

Video: NJD@NYI: Lee tucks in puck to chip at deficit 



Pluses: Brayden Point is back scoring and making plays for Tampa Bay, with six points (four goals, two assists) in seven games, after missing most of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season because of a torn right quadricep. The center is such an integral part of their team and the power play. Center Steven Stamkos is coming off an NHL career-high 106 points (42 goals, 64 assists), but the 32-year-old hasn’t slowed down and is tied for the League lead with seven goals. Tampa Bay has played the most hockey over the past three years but still has a core that knows how to win, which is why its slumps don’t last very long.

Minuses: I’m expecting the Lightning to improve after a slow start (1-3-0) prior to winning two of their past three. The loss of center Anthony Cirelli, who hasn’t played this season after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who was traded to the Nashville Predators on July 3, hurts them. It will take some time for them to jell on defense. And they need to get forward Nikita Kucherov (one goal) and defensman Victor Hedman (none) on track offensively.

Video: TBL@FLA: Stamkos snipes home opening goal


Pluses: The good news is that they are back home after a five-game road trip (0-4-1). We know all the young talent they have, led by centers Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish and forward Troy Terry, so it shouldn’t be long before they begin to produce. Early returns on their top two offseason acquisitions, center Ryan Strome (four points; one goal, three assists in six games) and forward Frank Vatrano (three goals in six games) are encouraging.

Minuses: Since a season-opening 5-4 overtime win against the Seattle Kraken, they’ve lost five straight, outscored 23-9, and most of those games haven’t been competitive. The younger players are getting more minutes and hopefully that will soon translate to results. MacTavish hasn’t hit his stride yet, with four assists in six games. Forward Max Comtois has one goal, center Isac Lundestrom has two assists and Jamie Drysdale, who was second among rookie defensemen in scoring last season, has no points in six games.

Video: ANA@NYR: Vatrano fires a shot into the corner of net

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