Washington Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, collides with Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Cruising Crosby, Ovechkin collide

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Washington Capitals will head to the Consol Energy Center to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Penguins have been hit hard by the injury bug this season, but you wouldn’t know it based on their record. They have a 16-point cushion over the Capitals in the battle for the Metropolitan Division title going into tonight’s meeting.

Sidney Crosby deserves a lot of the credit for that. He’s one of just six Penguins players to participate in all 47 of the team’s games and it’s rare for him to be held off the scoresheet. Just like Pittsburgh has been dominating the Metropolitan, Crosby has a comfortable lead in the battle for the Art Ross Trophy with 67 points this season.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

He’s not the only one that’s been a force to be reckoned with though. Just as Crosby has dominated the points race, no one is close to Washington’s Alex Ovechkin when it comes to putting the puck in the back of the net. He has 33 markers in 44 contests while three other players, including Crosby, are tied for second with 25 goals.

So once again Washington versus Pittsburgh will be defined by Ovechkin and Crosby, but while that’s certainly been talked about before, that rivalry did go through something of a hiatus due to Crosby’s injury problems and Ovechkin’s struggles a couple years back.

Even last season really didn’t feature a long period where they were both at the top of their game given that Ovechkin didn’t catch fire until the second half of the shortened campaign and Crosby’s regular season was cut short due to a broken jaw. In fact, this might prove to be the first season since 2009-10 where they both manage to stay largely healthy and neither of them goes through any season-defining rough patches.

While they’re the headlines of this contest, they both have impressive supporting casts. Both teams also have big X-Factors, such as James Neal’s (upper body) availability and the Capitals’ goaltending situation. Washington has employed three different goaltenders in its last three games and they all had solid performances. Even still, it’s made for an awkward and uncertain scenario.

On a broader level, the Penguins would seem to have the edge. Even with all their injuries, they have a lot of offensive depth and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been excellent in the regular season. Pittsburgh is also an unreal 19-3-0 at home and earned a crushing 4-0 over Washington earlier this season.

At the same time, Washington has to be hungry for a win. This game should mean more to the Capitals in the heated battle for second place in the division and they have to be frustrated after enduring back-to-back shootout losses. Perhaps that will inspire them tonight.

PHT Morning Skate: Sharks name stray cat after captain Joe Pavelski

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–The stray cat that ran onto the ice prior to Game 1 between the Sharks and Preds has been named after Joe Pavelski. (Associated Press)

–Speaking of that black cat, here’s a mountain of pucks shaped like the cat. (The Score)

–When Lukas Head was younger, he played with Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban. Here’s his story. (Toronto Star)

–Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Stars and Blues. (Top)

–A look behind the scenes of the NHL draft lottery. (Canadian Press)

–Two-time Olympic gold medalist Sharon Szabados loves curing and the Oilers and she was forced to make a tough choice on Saturday. (Sportsnet)

Pascal Dupuis, who was named one of the Masterton Trophy finalists, is adjusting to retirement. (NHL.com)

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta