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.

Sharks flip the script, tie Penguins heading into third period

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates after scoring a second period goal against Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (not pictured) in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.

Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.

The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.

Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:

Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:

Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.

Report: Blues will bring back Hitchcock with one-year deal

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Yes, the St. Louis Blues fell short of the Stanley Cup Final, but they still broke some playoff hexes in 2015-16. Apparently Blues management saw enough to bring back Ken Hitchcock.

That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos, who report that the Blues are expected to announce a one-year deal with the veteran head coach on Tuesday.

Friedman wonders if these one-year pacts (Hitchcock was on one for 2015-16 as well) may chase away other staffers:

When asked about these scenarios, Hitchcock seemed like he was in favor of experiencing a perpetual “contract year.”

“I scare myself because I think if I take long-term deal, I’m gonna get sloppy,” Hitchcock told Hockey Central at Noon and Sportsnet back in mid-May. “I want to stay on one-year deals.

For plenty of fans, it makes perfect sense to bring Hitchcock back after the Blues took steps forward.

Others wonder if Hitchcock’s style (which leans toward dump-and-chase and “gritty” hockey more than some other teams) may leave the Blues in the dust, however.

That’s a debate for a bar or a message board, yet one can see deeper logic in giving Hitchcock one more shot.

While the Blues have decisions to make – including what to do with free agent captain David Backes – the team is also structured to make another run. Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko all have deals that will expire after 2016-17, and each contract is a bargain.

If St. Louis believes that Hitchcock is the right fit for that personnel group, then it makes sense to give him another go.

Crosby, Rust and Sheary lead Penguins’ early charge

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Evgeni Malkin #71 after scoring a first period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Generally speaking, the strategic talk heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final focused on the San Jose Sharks’ deeper defense vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blinding speed.

It’s very early, but so far: advantage Penguins.

Pittsburgh came roaring out of the gate in front of a boisterous Consol Energy Center crowd, but it took them a while to break through.

Once the Penguins did, they raced ahead to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals just 1:02 apart.

First, Bryan Rust kept his red-hot streak going with the 1-0 tally.

Moments later, Sidney Crosby made a beautiful pass to Conor Sheary to put the Penguins up two.

There were a few other moments in which the Sharks looked like they were really struggling with the Penguins’ speed, but Martin Jones made some saves that could be big if San Jose can gather its wits.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.