Crosby and Ovechkin

NHL on NBCSN: Capitals and Penguins rekindle an old divisional battle

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Pittsburgh Penguins head to Verizon Center to take on the Washington Capitals at 8 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Whatever you might think of seeing the Capitals and Penguins squaring off once again, seeing the captains of those teams go head-to-head is more than worth the price of admission.

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is tied for the league lead in goals (with St. Louis’ Alex Steen) with 17. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is tied with Steen for the league lead in points with 26. Two superstar players playing at the height of their abilities going against each other on Rivalry Night. That’ll do just fine.

As Capitals coach Adam Oates tells CSNWashington.com’s Chuck Gormley, there’s nothing wrong with appreciating the best in the game.

“Those guys are more like Gretz vs. Mario,” Oates said, referencing the “Who’s better?” rivalry between Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

“They’re the superstars of the league. I would hope as a fan you appreciate that. You’ve got two of the best guys in the world playing against each other. It makes for an electric game.”

What helps make the game even better? The Caps trail the Penguins by one point for the Metropolitan Division lead.

The Capitals come into the game having won three in a row and seven of their last nine. The Penguins are coming off a 3-1 win over Anaheim on Monday and have won six of their last 10 games.

While it’s all well and good to laud how well Ovechkin has done this season, he’s only tied for the team lead in points with 24. The other player? Nicklas Backstrom.

Backstrom has had one of the stronger starts this season but is going about it quietly racking up 19 assists. Those 24 points are good for a four-way tie for fourth in the league in points. Ovechkin rediscovering his goal-scoring touch last season and into this year has paid off in part due to Backstrom setting him up.

Backstrom isn’t the only player honing his playmaking skills this season. Evgeni Malkin has made up for his lack of goal-scoring by piling up the assists with 17. While he has just three goals this season, his ability to set up his linemates has rounded out the Penguins attack. After all, Jussi Jokinen’s eight goals only trail Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the team.

The least enviable guys on the ice tonight though? Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby. While both have had strong starts to their season, having to deal with offenses like these won’t make for an easy night. If they can steal the show, that will just add another layer to this modern rivalry.

Red Wings get ‘ultra-fast, ultra-competitive’ Helm back in lineup versus Sabres

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11: Darren Helm #43 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Darren Helm is back in the Detroit Red Wings lineup Friday, after missing the last two months with a shoulder injury.

Helm last played on Nov. 15, and was initially expected to miss at least six weeks with a dislocated shoulder. According to reports, he’ll make his return to game action against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Red Wings are searching for a fourth consecutive win, as they look to gain ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

“He’s ultra-fast, he’s ultra-competitive,” said coach Jeff Blashill, per MLive.com. “I thought he had an excellent start to the year. It was obviously unfortunate he got hurt, but we all deal with it. The good thing with him is he’s such a skater and such a competitor that when he gets back into the lineup after a long layoff I expect him to be pretty good.”

In 17 games this season before his injury, Helm had four goals and seven points.

Jets rookie scorer Patrik Laine making progress in concussion recovery

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 17:  Patrik Laine #29 of the Winnipeg Jets waits for a faceoff against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on November 17, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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There was a positive development for the Winnipeg Jets and their rookie scorer Patrik Laine on Friday.

Per reports, Laine was back skating with his teammates during Friday’s practice, albeit while wearing a yellow non-contact jersey, marking another step in his return from a concussion suffered on an open-ice hit from Jake McCabe on Jan. 7.

“It doesn’t matter how long you’re out of the games. I’m still young, and I have a lot of games ahead of me. I don’t have to rush anything,” said Laine, per NHL.com. “It’s easier to work out now, and be able to go out on the ice with the team. Hopefully I can get back soon.”

Laine has missed the last six games, and the Jets have lost four times in his absence. There have been rumblings about the future of head coach Paul Maurice in Winnipeg due to his team’s struggles.

Selected second overall last June, Laine has been as advertised in his freshman campaign: A scoring forward with a terrific and accurate shot. He leads Winnipeg in goals with 21. Certainly, the Jets have missed his ability to finish over this recent stretch. But at age 18 and given the nature of his injury, it’s imperative he not be rushed back.

“He comes back in (Saturday) and if he’s right where he left off and felt good, we would start to push the heart rate a little bit and gradually work up from there,” said Maurice, per the Winnipeg Sun. “If he feels good (Saturday), he’ll get some light bumps in.

“He’s absolutely not getting back into a game until he’s at 100 percent and clear. And then I’m more interested in getting him in the next game.”

The Jets play the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, the Anaheim Ducks on Monday and the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

Injured Silfverberg skips trip with Ducks

Jakob Silfverberg
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Forward Jakob Silfverberg will not travel on the Anaheim Ducks’ upcoming two-game road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg while recovering from an upper-body injury.

The Ducks are leaving for Minnesota on Friday without Silfverberg, who was injured late in their 2-1 victory over Colorado on Thursday.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Silfverberg left Thursday’s game in the third period, shortly after a hit from Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov, and is considered day-to-day. Silfverberg’s head is believed to have hit the ice but it is not known if he suffered a head injury.

Anaheim recalled right wing Corey Tropp and defenseman Shea Theodore from its AHL affiliate in San Diego.

Silfverberg has 13 goals and 16 assists in a strong season with the Pacific Division-leading Ducks. The Swede is on pace to surpass his career highs in goals and assists.

Silfverberg has teamed up with All-Star center Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano on the Ducks’ most effective line this season.

Pre-game reading: Is better ice the key to more scoring?

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— Up top, the resurrection of Alexander Radulov has been quite the story in Montreal.

Corey Crawford has an interesting theory on how to increase scoring in the NHL. It’s not smaller goalie equipment; it’s better ice. “I’ve always thought the real issue isn’t goalie equipment. The issue is ice. If you can make ice like the way it is in Colorado, the way it is in Washington, Edmonton — you make the conditions like that for every game in every rink, guys are going to score. … You watch a game where the ice is just horse[bleep] — it makes a huge difference. ” (Chicago Sun-Times)

— Speaking of horse[bleep] ice…the New York Islanders! Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News think the Isles need to see what they’ve got in youngsters like Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang. Kennedy writes: “Admittedly, I’ve only watched Bridgeport once this season, but I don’t think that giving them a couple of games in The Show would foment a sense of entitlement – think of it as motivation. A call-up in 2016-17 is no guarantee of a roster spot in 2017-18.” The Isles could certainly be an interesting team to watch as the trade deadline approaches. Veteran forwards like Nikolay Kulemin and Jason Chimera aren’t going to be part of the future. If Garth Snow can move their salary, or even part of their salary, it might be wise to do it. (The Hockey News)

Marian Hossa is the 10th-oldest player in the NHL. How has the 38-year-old winger maintained such a high level of play? The answer: Hard work. “He’s one of the best professionals, the way he carries himself, prepares every day,” teammate Ryan Hartman told Sports Illustrated. “He’s always here early, even after games he’s in the gym doing some type of stuff to keep his body in shape. The way he presents himself, it helps us young guys, for sure, to learn from him.” (SI)

— A profile of Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft. Writes Postmedia’s Michal Traikos: “Some have called him the second coming of Anze Kopitar, because he has off-the-charts hockey IQ and already plays a mature, two-way game. With a dad (Steve) and an uncle (James) who both played in the NHL, Patrick understands the subtleties of the game. When he was 16, the Wheat Kings matched him up against Leon Draisaitl, who was two years older and already drafted, in the WHL final.” (National Post)

— Patrick was, indeed, the first overall pick in Adam Kimelman’s mock draft over at NHL.com. The second pick was another center, Gabriel Vilardi. The third was also a center, Nico Hischier. In fact, of Kimelman’s top 10 picks, six were listed as centers. While there may be no obvious, future superstar like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews in this summer’s draft, there’s still plenty of talent to be had — especially down the middle, apparently. (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!