Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) lunges for the puck against Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green (52) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 10, 2014, in Washington. The Penguins won 3-2.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

NHL on NBCSN: Capitals fight to earn first win vs. Penguins in 26 months

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals at the Consol Energy Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have been fierce rivals since Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby broke into the league, but there’s no question that the competition has been very one-sided lately.

Washington hasn’t defeated Pittsburgh since Jan. 11, 2012 and it doesn’t take much to figure out which has been the better team this season. The Penguins are cruising to the Metropolitan Division title with a 43-17-4 record while the Capitals are just trying to claw their way into the playoffs.

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That task was made a little harder for the Capitals yesterday when Pittsburgh earned a 3-2 victory against them in the first half of this home-and-home series. That was Washington’s fourth loss in five games and was largely due to Crosby’s efforts. He led the Penguins with a goal and three points, giving him six points in three contests against Washington in 2013-14.

By comparison, Ovechkin had a quiet night and has now been kept off the scoresheet for three straight games.

One of the main differences between Pittsburgh and Washington is that the Penguins have plenty of scoring depth. On the rare occasions Crosby doesn’t get a point, they still have the likes of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Jussi Jokinen. Beyond Ovechkin, Washington’s only major threat is Nicklas Backstrom. With that in mind, if Washington is going to rebound today, it will likely be courtesy of Ovechkin.

That being said, there are some x-factors. Assuming Washington opts to use him on back-to-back nights, Evgeny Kuznetsov will be worth watching. The 21-year-old KHL standout made his Capitals debut on Monday, getting two shots on goal in 10:22 minutes.

It wasn’t a start worth remembering, but he was making the transition to North American hockey while playing against one of the league’s best teams. Washington is hoping that he’ll be able to adjust quickly and provide the squad with that extra offensive weapon that they sorely need. He is capable of turning some heads tonight.

From Pittsburgh’s perspective, there’s not a lot left to play for until the postseason starts. The stakes coming into this game are higher for Washington, but that doesn’t mean the Penguins will have trouble getting motivated for this one. Diminishing a chief rivals chances of advancing to the playoffs is something worth fighting for.

Clutter-bucks: Isles sign energy guy to five-year, $17.5 million extension

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders scores his second goal of the game at 9:53 of the third period against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.

Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.

This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.

This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.

This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.

Bettman: Salary cap could stay the same for next season

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.

“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”

The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.

The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.

A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.

Related: Trades galore? McPhee expecting ‘a massive player redistribution before the expansion draft’

A few ‘bad decisions’ have been costing Lundqvist

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 6-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.

That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?

“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”

Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.

But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.

Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.

Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts

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Jets send talented rookie Connor to AHL

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.

On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.

He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.

The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.