2011 NHL Winter Classic Practice

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.

With Eaves injured, Nichushkin will play for Stars in Game 2

Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) takes control of the puck in front of St. Louis Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 3-0. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Patrick Eaves won’t be able to play for the Dallas Stars against the St. Louis Blues in their upcoming Game 2.

The last time we saw Eaves, he was leaving the ice by gliding on one foot after being hit by a teammate’s shot. He needed help to the locker room and was seen on crutches according to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.

The bad news is that Eaves cannot go. The good news is that the Stars can replace him with a player who boasts considerable offensive skill, as Valeri Nichushkin will take Eaves’ place.

Nichushkin wasn’t very effective in five postseason games so far, failing to score a point and only managed three shots on goal.

Still, if the frenetic pace of Game 1 carries on through this series, Nichushkin could very well make an impact.

Update: the Stars have other options at forward after making recalls:

Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary (43) is greeted by teammates Brian Dumoulin (8) and Chris Kunitz (14) after scoring his first NHL goal, in the first period of the Penguins' hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Bruins' Brad Marchand is at lower right. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might look a little different in Game 2 on Saturday after that blistering Game 1.

As the team down 1-0, it’s not too surprising that the Penguins boast the more significant lineup questions, although they lean toward health concerns rather than performance tweaks.

Conor Sheary was able to return during Game 1 after Tom Wilson‘s controversial knee-to-knee hit, and he appears to be in for tonight’s contest as well. Chris Kunitz isn’t quite a guarantee, as he’s currently labeled a game-time decision.

For what it’s worth, Kunitz himself believes he’ll be in. Whether he plays on Saturday or not, it sounds like Kunitz is taking extra safety measures going forward.

The Penguins stayed vague with Marc-Andre Fleury, merely claiming that he’s making “progress.”

Generally speaking, Matt Murray has been playing well for the Penguins. Of course, the scrutiny will rise if Pittsburgh loses Game 2 on Saturday.

The Capitals are also considering a tweak. CSN Mid-Atlantic reports that Barry Trotz is pondering replacing Dmitry Orlov with Taylor Chorney.

“They told me to be prepared as if I’m going to be playing,” Chorney said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

As you may notice, Chorney isn’t the only one in wait-and-see mode heading into Game 2, which you can watch on NBC.

Hitchcock, Blues know they need to slow down the Stars … but can they?

The puck shot by Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel crosses the goal line as St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) attempt the stop during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. The Stars won 2-1. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
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The Dallas Stars only beat the St. Louis Blues by one goal (2-1) in Game 1, but the feeling is that the score was deceptively close.

Blame it on fatigue from that epic series against the Chicago Blackhawks or not; the Blues looked out of rhythm and out of breath against the hard-charging Stars.

At least they’re not in denial about that, though.

“We’re not going to beat anybody giving up 40 shots on goal,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after their Game 1 loss on Friday. “We’re not going to beat anybody giving up the scoring chances we did today.”

Hitchcock added “we’ve got to find the energy to play our game, and we’ve got to find it quickly in the next 48 hours.”

Allowing 40 shots on goal might not be that common for the Blues, yet they leaned heavily on Brian Elliott against the Blackhawks in that series.

Just look at the SOG comparison in that series and in Game 1 vs. Dallas:

Game 1: Blues – 18 SOG, Blackhawks – 35
Game 2: Blues – 31, Blackhawks – 29
Game 3: Blues – 36, Blackhawks – 46
Game 4: Blues – 20, Blackhawks – 42
Game 5: Blues – 46, Blackhawks – 35
Game 6: Blues – 28, Blachawks – 36
Game 7: Blues – 26, Blackhawks – 33

Game 1: Blues – 32, Stars – 42

Such shot comparisons make you wonder if Game 1 provided evidence of a rest advantage or if this might just be the state of affairs for the Blues (at least against two electric offenses).

One area to watch is the transition game. The Stars seemed to tear through the neutral zone while the Blues sometimes struggled to get things going.

“They’re a team that wants to play real fast up the ice and through the neutral zone,” Jay Bouwmeester said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Yeah, we didn’t do a very good job of slowing them down. A lot of their chances were off the rush. That’s what you want to take away from them.”

File that under “easier said than done.”

Gather your lucky charms, 2016 NHL Draft Lottery is tonight

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Honestly, it’s tough to blame people for making Edmonton Oilers jokes in regards to the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery.

Really it’s only human nature to drop one-liners about the perennial cellar-dweller that (seemingly) always lands the No. 1 pick.

Will it happen again this time around? We’ll find out soon enough, more precisely sometime around 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

As you can see, the Oilers do not have the best odds to land the top pick … but they’re close:

A reminder: this time around the lottery will determine the top three picks. The NHL discusses that tweak and other changes here:

For the first time, the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery will assign the top three slots in the first round of the NHL Draft – a change from prior years, when the Draft Lottery was used to determine the winner of the first overall selection exclusively.

Want the full lowdown on the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery? PHT has you covered here.