Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malki

Around the rink – Thursday, December 23rd

With the league taking Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, tonight sees 13 games hit us square in the face. The featured event will be in Washington where a Winter Classic preview will take place between the Penguins and Capitals. With HBO in the house for 24/7 and it being the first time the two have faced off, the drama level should be off the charts.

All times listed are Eastern because that’s where Santa Claus visits America first.

7:00 pm

Pittsburgh @ Washington

You couldn’t ask for a better Christmas gift. Both teams come in riding two-game win streaks with the Pens playing outstanding hockey and the Caps seemingly having shaken off their eight game slump. The differences here come from the Pens dominating teams with their biggest stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin carrying the weight offensively while the Caps have won with the young upstarts doing the job. This would be a heck of a time to see Alex Ovechkin have a breakout game wouldn’t it?

NY Islanders @ New Jersey

The battle to see who stays out of absolute dead last in the NHL gets a higher profile thanks to the firing of John MacLean and the Lazarus-like return of Jacques Lemaire behind the Devils bench. The Devils are coming off back-to-back thumpings from Atlanta and Washington. The Isles are coming off a big win over Tampa Bay. Big in that it was any win at all. If it weren’t for today’s firing, this game wouldn’t even be on our radar.

Atlanta @ Boston

The slumping Bruins have people wondering aloud if Claude Julien should still be the man in charge there. Atlanta rolls into town with former Julien assistant Craig Ramsay as their head man and the Thrashers are thriving because of it. Well how about that. Julien getting his team to rally and get one over on Ramsay would go over pretty well for the B’s. Another loss and the whispers about wanting Julien out might start to turn into shouts. Truth here is that Boston has a hard time scoring goals even with great play from Tim Thomas. Atlanta’s tough brand of hockey and knack for scoring goals provides quite the gut check for the Bruins.

Tampa Bay @ NY Rangers

No Marian Gaborik for the Rangers in this one so Mats Zuccarello, the Norwegian Olympic hero, gets to make his first appearance with the Rangers. The 5’7″ forward came over from Europe after a successful year there and a spectacular showing in the Olympics. Seeing how he adjusts to the NHL could be fun to watch. The Lightning, meanwhile, would like to forget last night’s embarrassing loss to the Islanders.

Florida @ Buffalo

The NHL schedule makers gift to the Panthers was to play three games in four nights, the last of which coming in Buffalo tonight. Merry Christmas, indeed. The Panthers got worked over by the Penguins last night after shutting out the Flyers on Monday. Buffalo would like to redeem themselves against the Panthers after getting drubbed by them in Florida last week.

Montreal @ Carolina

Believe it or not, Habs fans are still upset at the Hurricanes for knocking them out of the playoffs years ago. Perhaps that’s their way of getting worked up for an opponent. One person Habs fans are getting discouraged with is coach Jacques Martin as he’ll be sitting down P.K. Subban and Benoit Pouliot tonight as healthy scratches. The Habs have lost two in a row and five of their last six. Carolina looks to rebound after getting beat down by Tampa on Monday and hope to reignite the win streak they were on before that when they won five straight.

Vancouver @ Columbus

Vancouver could sure use a pick-me-up after dropping last night’s game to Detroit in particularly chokey fashion. Dealing with the Blue Jackets you never know for sure which team you’ll get. It’s either the team that gets great goaltending and has Rick Nash show up in a big way or the team that gets six or seven goals put up on them and they’re run out of the building. If the Wings didn’t take too much out of Vancouver, this could be a long night for Columbus.

8:00 pm

Detroit @ St. Louis

It’ll be the first game for Detroit without Pavel Datsyuk who’s out four weeks with a broken hand. If the Wings get Henrik Zetterberg to step up and play big the way he did last night, the Wings will be just fine without Datsyuk in the mean time. The Blues are hoping their win over Atlanta the other night was the signal of a turnaround for them after going through a stretch of a few weeks where the goaltending and goal scoring disappeared.

Ottawa @ Nashville

The slumping Senators roll into Music City looking for something to spark them. Losing Pascal Leclaire from their starting lineup has been a sign of the times lately. The losses come in bunches while wins are scattered here and there. For Nashville, their strong play of late has vaulted them up the standings in the Western Conference and they’ve done it while soldiering through injuries to key players throughout the lineup. The Preds are hoping the offense can make a comeback after scoring just one goal in each of their last two games, both losses to the Kings and Blackhawks.

8:30 pm

Calgary @ Dallas

A desperate Flames team rolls into Dallas to face a Stars team that’s won three in a row. The Stars have to be careful to avoid the trap game here as the Flames have the ability to get hot at a moments notice and with Miikka Kiprusoff in goal it can spell trouble at any time. The Flames will be looking to snap a three game skid. Yeah, this totally reeks of being a trap game.

9:00 pm

Minnesota @ Colorado

While the Avs have been playing well of late, their last game aside, Minnesota is a team that gives the Avs fits for one reason or another. The Wild are on a two game win streak thanks to beating the Flames in back-to-back games. Whether or not the Wild defense can keep up with the Avs speed is the big question here. The Avs could stand to use a solid game out of Craig Anderson as his last few starts haven’t looked quite so hot.

10:30 pm

Edmonton @ Los Angeles

The Kings are hoping to get some consistent play as they’ve alternated wins and losses over the last few games. Doing so against an Oilers team that’s showing some guts but some typically youthful and inexperienced play would be an ideal place to begin. The Oilers have dropped three of their last four and did so with scoring just one goal in each of those losses. Which Oilers team comes out to play tonight and what the Kings allow them to do are two interesting turns in this one.

Phoenix @ San Jose

The Logan Couture traveling road show comes back home as the Sharks look to continue ascending the standings in the Pacific Division. They’re just four points behind Dallas and after winning three in a row they’ve gotten the fans to relax and have fun again and Couture is the main reason for it. As for Phoenix, they’ve struggled without Ilya Bryzgalov in goal and suffered an embarrassing loss to Pittsburgh on Monday night. Now would make for a good time for a rebound.

Crosby returns, and so does Penguins’ balanced attack in win

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14: Sidney Crosby #87 and Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skate against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on November 14, 2014 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — With Sidney Crosby back in the lineup for the first time this season on Tuesday night the Pittsburgh Penguins roster is starting to resemble the one that lifted the Stanley Cup four months ago.

About half way through their 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers, they finally started to look like that team on the ice, too.

Entering the game having lost three out of four (while looking quite bad and being outscored 15-7 in the process) it looked like that early season slump was going to continue on Tuesday when they faced a 2-0 deficit midway through the second period.

They looked sluggish. They couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. The Panthers were completely shutting the game down and had just put on a penalty killing clinic where they played a 40-second game of keep-away, sparking a chorus of boos from the home crowd.

And then Sidney Crosby showed up.

It was at that point that Crosby found himself wide open in the middle of the ice to accept a pass from Evgeni Malkin and rip it past Panthers goalie Jamies Reimer for his first goal of the year.

In the end, it was a typical night at the office for Crosby.

He scored a goal, was a possession-driving machine (better than 63 percent of the shot attempts with Crosby on the ice belonged to Pittsburgh) and finished with a team-leading four shots on goal and seven attempts.

But for his good as he was in his 2016-17 debut, the biggest impact his return had is it made once again made their lineup a nightmare to match up against.

The Penguins’ calling card in last year’s playoffs was their ability to play fast, and their deep, balanced attack that had four lines that could all contribute. It was a matchup problem that nobody could really handle as they kept rotating lines with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel out one after another (not to mention a fourth line that has some scoring potential as well).

They obviously lose that a lot of advantage when Crosby is out of the lineup and teams only really have two big-time scoring threats to worry about.

On Tuesday, you could see it eventually start to become an issue for the Panthers as the Penguins received goals from three different lines in the win.

After Crosby scored to get the Penguins on the board, Carl Hagelin scored his first of the season to tie the game five minutes into the third period. Then fourth line provided the winner four minutes later when Eric Fehr finished a perfect pass from Tom Kuhnhackl.

Even with the win on Tuesday and a 4-2-1 start to the season it is still pretty clear the Penguins have some things to work through and are not quite where they need to be at this point. They have to cut down on the penalties. They really haven’t played a complete 60-minute game yet. The HBK line (which was broken up in the third period against Florida) has not really clicked the way it did in the playoffs. Kris Letang is still injured. But on Tuesday you started to see flashes of what made the team such a force in the playoffs.

With Crosby back on the ice and extending the lineup, you might start to see it happen a little more often.

Video: Flyers’ Konecny scores first NHL goal

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Through six games of the NHL season, Travis Konecny enjoyed a nice start to his rookie campaign with five assists. Just one thing was missing, though.

On Tuesday, he took care of that against the Buffalo Sabres.

Konecny, taken 24th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, deflected an Ivan Provorov point shot early in the third period, beating goalie Anders Nilsson on the glove side for his first NHL goal.  That goal also got the Flyers on the board.


Konecny and Provorov make Flyers, expected ‘to be here all year’

WATCH LIVE: Ducks at Sharks

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks and Paul Martin #7 of the San Jose Sharks defend against the shot of Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks during a game at Honda Center on December 4, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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California rivals clash tonight, as the Anaheim Ducks visit the San Jose Sharks. This marks the first meeting of the season between the two Pacific Division teams.

The Sharks have lost two games in a row, while the Ducks have won two straight.

You can catch tonight’s game on NBCSN or with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra (10 p.m. ET).


Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Brent Burns is on a beastly pace

Report: Ducks put Despres on long-term injured reserve

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Flyers; Ducks vs. Sharks

Video: Looks like Bishop lost some teeth after taking a shot to the mask

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Difficult night for some goalies across the NHL.

Frederik Andersen has had his struggles against Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, although the players in front of him haven’t given their puck stopper much help, either.

And then there is Bolts goalie Ben Bishop, who took a Peter Holland wrist shot off the mask and appeared to lose some teeth as a result.

But this is hockey. Bishop, who even appeared to crack a smile while being examined on the ice, remained in the game.