Who needs to win the Winter Classic more?

With tonight’s Winter Classic dropping the puck at 8 p.m. we see two teams that are indeed rivals that are sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference. Don’t let their place in the standings fool you though, there are stark differences between the two and how they’re playing leading into tonight’s game.

Washington has put their eight-game losing streak behind them and they’ve won four of their last five games but that one loss in the middle of that is to Pittsburgh. With the teams only meeting four times this season, each game brings a special kind of heat to it and with tonight’s game being the Winter Classic, the pressure is intense to win each game to prove a point.

But who needs to win this game more? For us, the answer is obvious. Washington needs to get a win tonight and if you’ve seen any part of HBO’s 24/7 you know why. The Capitals need a confidence boost.

The Caps’ recent success is good for them because it keeps them from being the quiet and sullen team they appeared to be on 24/7. That said, getting wins over Ottawa, New Jersey, and Carolina aren’t really awe-inspiring. Their 3-0 shutout win over Montreal was a solid psychological boost after their failure against Montreal last year. A win against the Penguins in Pittsburgh today in front of 65,000 fans is the exact kind of win this temperamental Caps team needs to stay focused and to completely put that miserable losing streak in the past for good.

What would be best for Washington would be to beat Pittsburgh and beat them handily with their offensive stars like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom all finding the score sheet. Ovechkin is having a solid season, but his goal numbers are down compared to previous seasons. The lingering feeling that Ovechkin has a goal eruption coming hangs over the team and once it happens (if it happens) the high-scoring Caps we got accustomed to seeing will be back in a big way.

That’s not to say this game isn’t big for the Penguins. The Pens are getting Jordan Staal back in their lineup tonight and that means for the first time this year, the Pens have their full compliment of great players back on the ice. We’ll get a look at how Staal looks with Evgeni Malkin on his wing and if that’s the thing the Penguins needed to take control of the Eastern Conference races.

As it is, the Pens are four points up on both Washington and Tampa Bay for the overall lead in the East. The Pens getting another win, ideally a regulation win with just two points for them and none for the Caps, would work two-fold. The Pens would extend their lead and they’d also deliver a psychological blow to Washington, something that could linger with them all year long.

Overall though, this game is a must-win for Washington. If it turns into another game where they fall behind early and try to gut it out, it creates unnecessary drama for them. After all, moral victories aren’t counted in the standings and when it comes to Pittsburgh, racking up those kinds of wins doesn’t do anything to help them out in the long run and for Washington, that’s what matters the most.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson has a discipline hearing today for interference

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The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Saturday morning that it has scheduled a disciplinary hearing with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as a result of his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas on Friday night.

It will be the first hearing for the department under the direction of its new leader, George Parros.

This particular incident happened early in the third period of the Blues’ 4-0 win on Friday night.

Here is a look at the entire sequence, including the fight that Wilson found himself in with Dmitri Jaskin in response to the hit.

It is clear that Wilson delivered his hit long after Thomas was in possession of the puck.

Even though Wilson always seems to be getting attention for some of his hits and physical play he has never been suspended in his career. His only punishment from the league has been in the form of two fines — one for diving/embellishment, and another for kneeing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary during the 2015-16 playoffs.

The fact that he has a hearing for his hit would seem to indicate a suspension might be on the horizon. The only question is whether or not it will just end his preseason (the Capitals still have four more games) or if it will carry over into the regular season.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.

‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

“It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”

Golden Knights assign 2017 first-round picks Glass, Suzuki to junior

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The Vegas Golden Knights continue to make roster moves during their inaugural training camp.

On Friday, the expansion club assigned four players to junior. That includes 2017 first-round picks Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack.

The Golden Knights made franchise history by taking Glass with the sixth overall pick and then selected Suzuki at 13th overall. Both players appeared in two preseason games for Vegas, each recording two points in the exhibition opener versus the Vancouver Canucks.

“Nobody is going to rush (the rookies), that’s for sure,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun following the club’s 9-4 win over Vancouver on Sunday.

“We are in a position where we want to make sure they are ready to play. They are going to be good players when they’re healthy and strong enough to play in the league.”

Vegas has all three 2017 first-round picks — Glass, Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom — signed to three-year entry-level contracts.