Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy

NHL on NBCSN: Sharks host Penguins in battle of powerhouses

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the San Jose Sharks host the Pittsburgh Penguins at SAP Center at 10:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Sharks and Penguins are the virtual class of their conferences. Pittsburgh is the No. 1 team in the East with 86 points and San Jose is a top five team in the West with 85. If you needed something to illustrate the vast differences between the East and West you don’t have to look any further than that, but when these two face off tonight in California, those style contrasts go out the window.

Pittsburgh won the earlier meeting against San Jose this season, a 5-1 decision in December where Chris Kunitz scored twice and the other four goal scorers from that game won’t be suiting up tonight (Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang, Jayson Megna, and Tomas Hertl).

Things are a bit different for the Penguins this time around. Letang is out after suffering a stroke, Paul Martin is out with a broken hand, and Dupuis season is likely over after a knee injury. The basics are the same though. Sidney Crosby is still the best player in the game, Evgeni Malkin is still a terrifying handful, and Marc-Andre Fleury is holding things down in goal.

After breaking a three-game winless streak against Nashville on Tuesday night, the Penguins want to keep their road trip going in the right direction. Doing that against a Sharks team that’s won four of the past six games may be tricky.

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

Since coming out of the Olympic break, the Sharks have had some head-scratching moments. They buried the Philadelphia Flyers 7-3 in Philly only to follow that the next night losing 4-2 to the NHL’s worst team, the Buffalo Sabres in Antti Niemi’s first start since returning from Sochi.

That kind of inconsistency will make coach Todd McLellan’s eyes go crossed. San Jose’s hope to catch the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division race will need to see them pile up wins. They trail the Ducks by seven points, so if there are more of those aggravating losses, the division may be out of reach.

On the upside, Brent Burns broke his goal drought in their last game against Carolina and getting him going ahead of the postseason will do the Sharks a lot of good. Raffi Torres’ return has seen him fill the net with three goals. Patrick Marleau has two goals in his past four games and 25 on the season.

It’ll be a star-studded display in San Jose between these teams and it’ll be on San Jose to show how they measure up in the grand scheme of things against the East’s top team.

Mumps outbreak hits Canucks, five players to miss Sharks game

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 11: Troy Stecher #51 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on February 11, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The mumps are back.

Three years after a league-wide outbreak sidelined a slew of players, the Canucks have announced that d-man Troy Stecher has been diagnosed with mumps, while four other players — Chris Tanev, Nikita Tryamkin, Mike Chaput and Markus Granlund — have presented symptoms.

More, from the club:

The team has worked from the outset with the Vancouver Health Authority, NHL, NHLPA and BC Centre for Disease Control to minimize transmission of the illness.

In keeping with BC Centre of Disease Control and Vancouver Coastal Health guidelines, players presenting symptoms are immediately being tested and quarantined in isolation for a five-day period from the onset of symptoms or until test results prove negative.

Vaccines are also being administered to minimize further risk of contraction along with universal preventative hygiene measures as recommended by Vancouver Coastal Health including disinfecting all dressing room areas.

Vancouver’s in the midst of its bye week. Saturday’s home date against the Sharks will be its first since a 3-2 loss to Philly on Sunday.

Given that Stecher’s out and the other four are being quarantined, the Canucks project to be severely undermanned tomorrow. There was no immediate announcement for AHL recall plans, or emergency roster replacements.

Following Saturday’s game, Vancouver is back in action again on Tuesday, when it hosts Detroit.

Stars trade Patrick Eaves to Ducks

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17: Patrick Eaves #18 of the Dallas Stars skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2017 in New York City. The Stars defeated the Rangers 7-6.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks have acquired winger Patrick Eaves in a trade with the Dallas Stars. The cost was a conditional second-round draft pick in 2017.

Eaves, 32, is enjoying a career year with 21 goals in 59 games. A pending unrestricted free agent, his cap hit is just $1 million. It was expected that he’d be traded prior to next week’s deadline.

Eaves join a Ducks team that could use a few more goals. Of note, Corey Perry has struggled offensively, scoring just 11 times in 62 games.

Below is the condition on the draft pick, which could turn into a first-round selection.

Based on draft position, Dallas will receive the middle pick of Ottawa, San Jose or Toronto’s second-round selections in 2017 per the conditions in which Anaheim acquired the pick from Toronto in a previous trade. Should Anaheim advance to the third round of the postseason and Eaves plays in 50% or more of their games in the first two rounds, the selection becomes the Ducks first-round selection in the 2017 NHL Draft.

Related: The Wild have options in search for forward depth

Bickell to play first game since MS diagnosis

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Paul Postma #4 of the Winnipeg Jets and Bryan Bickell #29 of the Carolina Hurricanes head to the Carolina zone during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell is expected to skate in his first hockey game since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

The Hurricanes assigned Bickell to their AHL affiliate in Charlotte on Friday and say he’s expected to play for the Checkers on Saturday night.

The move came a day after he was placed on waivers in a procedural move that allowed the team to send him to the minors.

Bickell, 30, has been out since October, was diagnosed with MS in November and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 11.

The three-time Stanley Cup winner with Chicago has been practicing with the Hurricanes for the past month.

Rutherford says Schultz extension ‘definitely a priority’ this summer

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on before a face off against the New Jersey Devils on March 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Justin Schultz‘s career has done a virtual 180 since joining Pittsburgh at last year’s trade deadline, and the Pens have made it clear they’d like to keep him around beyond this season.

“We have not [discussed an extension with Schultz],” GM Jim Rutherford said, per the Post-Gazette. “But he will definitely be a priority for us in the offseason.”

Acquired for a third-round pick last February, Schultz proved to be one of Rutherford’s best moves (part of the reason why Rutherford captured NHL GM of the Year). The former Oilers rearguard had seven points through 18 regular-season games and then thrived once getting into the playoff mix, helping Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup.

He was signed to a modest one-year, $1.4 million extension last summer, which has turned out to be another Rutherford masterstroke.

Schultz has been vitally important for a Pittsburgh defense decimated by injury. His TOI is way up — 19:15 per game — and his offensive contributions have been outstanding. The 26-year-old has nine goals and 39 points through 56 games, putting him tops among all Pens d-men (and tied for seventh among all NHL blueliners).

Schultz is a pending RFA, and in line for a pretty big raise. The Post-Gazette suggested it could cost Pittsburgh $4-$5 million annually to keep him around, meaning Rutherford will have his work cut out. Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley are all pending UFAs, while fellow d-man Brian Dumoulin is also restricted come July 1.

Rutherford will also need to deal with the Marc-Andre Fleury issue, specifically how to mitigate Fleury’s $5.75 million cap hit.