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.

Report: Bruins’ Khokhlachev to sign in KHL

Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins
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Alexander Khokhlachev’s time with the Boston Bruins is up, according to a report out of Russia that has the 22-year-old forward signing with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL.

The deal reportedly won’t be announced until after June 30; Khokhlachev is under contract with the B’s until then. But the fact he’s apparently decided to depart for the KHL should come as no surprise.

A second-round draft pick in 2011, Khokhlachev has spent the last three seasons piling up points in the AHL; however, he’s only appeared in nine NHL games.

Earlier this month, his agent told CBS Boston, “Alexander did not really get a chance for all the years that he signed a deal, for four years, the deals he signed with Boston, didn’t really get a chance to play in the National Hockey League, so he won’t stay in the organization.”

SKA acquired Khokhlachev’s KHL rights last summer.

Related: Khokhlachev just wants a chance

Jackets not expected to sign Quebec league prospect Pelletier

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Julien Pelletier meets his team after being drafted #107 by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Julien Pelletier, the QMJHL Sherbrooke forward taken in the fourth round of the ’14 draft, is unlikely to receive an entry-level contract from the Blue Jackets, per the Columbus Dispatch.

The move would mean Pelletier could re-enter this year’s draft. The Blue Jackets have until Wednesday to decide if they want to sign him, or trade his rights to another team.

Taken five spots ahead of Viktor Arvidsson — who’s become a nice young player for Nashville — Pelletier had a solid season in Sherbrooke, finishing second on the team in goals (with 27).

This year, he was in training camp with the Jackets but sent home early.

Per the Dispatch, the Jackets are also unlikely to sign another ’14 draftee — Olivier Leblanc, who was taken in the seventh round.

‘Invigorated’ Hitch signs for one final year in St. Louis

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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Ken Hitchcock is taking one last shot at winning a Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues.

The club announced today a one-year contract extension for the 64-year-old head coach. Hitchcock then confirmed during a press conference that 2016-17 will be his final year. He plans to retire from coaching once it’s over.

“I just feel like I’ve got this really good year in me,” Hitchcock said. “This season has invigorated me like no season before.”

The Blues, of course, made it all the way to the Western Conference Final this year. The previous four postseasons under Hitchcock, they made it to the second round once, then lost three straight times in the first round.

“This group of players, their dynamic has changed, and it’s really exciting right now,” he said.

There will be at least one change to the coaching staff. GM Doug Armstrong said today that associate coach Brad Shaw will not be back. The rest of the staff has been offered one-year extensions to match Hitchcock’s.

Now that the decision has been made on the head coach, Armstrong can turn his full attention to the roster. Getting Jaden Schwartz, a pending restricted free agent, signed to a long-term deal will be his initial focus.

As for the captain, pending unrestricted free agent David Backes, there’s interest in bringing him back, but the numbers have to make sense. Forwards Troy Brouwer, Steve Ott, Kyle Brodziak and Scottie Upshall are also UFAs.

On the back end, Kevin Shattenkirk is probably the biggest wild card. He can become unrestricted next summer, and there has been speculation he could be traded this summer. But as of right now, Armstrong expects him to be back.

Armstrong also said there’s a chance Vladimir Sobotka could return to the Blues next season. Sobotka has spent the last two years in the KHL.

However the roster looks next season, it will be interesting to see what Hitchcock can get out of it. The Blues got over a big hump in 2016, but they only got halfway to winning it all.

One thing’s for sure, though, and that’s this:

Related: Parayko’s ‘memorable’ season has extended into the playoffs

NHL explains no suspension for Marleau, says he didn’t ‘pick’ Rust’s head

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PITTSBURGH — Shortly after reports surfaced that San Jose’s Patrick Marleau wouldn’t face supplemental discipline for his hit on Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued a series of tweets explaining their decision.

Following last night’s game, Marleau said he didn’t think he’d be suspended for the hit, explaining that he “kind of let [Rust] skate into me.”

“I just tried to keep everything down,” Marleau added. “I didn’t want to get too high on him.”

Marleau’s assessment was in direct contrast with Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan.

“It’s a blindside hit to the head,” he said. “[Marleau] gets a penalty and I’m sure the league will look at it.”

As for Rust, Sullivan listed him as day-to-day with an upper-body injury following the contest. The hit knocked Rust out of last night’s game, and the Penguins haven’t began their off-day practice yet.

More to follow…