Brent Seabrook, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews

NHL on NBCSN: Penguins host Blackhawks in battle of conference powers


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

When we last saw the Blackhawks and Penguins facing each other, it was outdoors at Soldier Field in Chicago and the Blackhawks cruised to a 5-1 victory.

This time around, they take it indoors in Pittsburgh and both teams are looking to snap out of the doldrums of having playoff spots already locked up. The Penguins are close to locking down the top spot in the Metropolitan Division but just getting wins lately has been tricky.

The Pens are winless in six of the past nine games but are coming off a 2-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night. Chris Kunitz has scored in each of the past two games to be the spark, but the Pens will close out the regular season without Evgeni Malkin. At the least, Sidney Crosby is still doing his thing and looking like the NHL MVP in the process.

Crosby has points in three straight games and has a 16 point lead in scoring on on Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf with 97 points. People have wondered the past few seasons what it would be like to see a fully healthy Crosby and the answer is it’s dynamic.

The Blackhawks head into the game on Sunday night having split the past eight games going 4-3-1 in the process. Chicago is locked into either second or third place behind St. Louis in the Central Division and destined to face the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

What Chicago has to focus on is getting home ice in the first round and that means winning games more consistently. While they’re without Patrick Kane for the time being, rookie Teuvo Teravainen was a late-coming arrival on the scene to fill the void.

Having Jonathan Toews to lead the way helps make losing Kane a little easier. Since the Olympics he’s been dynamite with nine goals and 13 points in 15 games.

Oddly enough, however, Chicago’s offense has been a bit helter-skelter of late. In the past five games, they’ve been shut out twice but have 10 goals in the other three games. After losing two in row, including a 5-3 decision to the Ottawa Senators, the Blackhawks could stand to get their consistency back.

McDavid will center Hall and Slepyshev

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid said he didn’t have any trouble falling asleep on the eve of his professional debut.

But when he woke up on Thursday he said it finally hit him.

“In the days leading up I wasn’t really thinking about it too much,” McDavid said. “Kind of when I woke up this morning, I guess that’s kind of when it hit me that I’ll be playing in my first NHL game. I think that’s when I first realized.”

When the Oilers play at the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, all eyes will be on the 18-year-old McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and the most hyped player to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby of the Penguins made his debut a decade ago.

Speaking in front of a crowd of reporters on Thursday following his team’s morning skate, the soft-spoken rookie admitted to having some butterflies but said he felt pretty good and was excited to get going.

“It’s just special,” McDavid said of his NHL debut. “I’m living out my dream, so there’s nothing better than that. I’m just really looking forward to tonight.”

McDavid will be centering the Oilers’ second line against the Blues with Taylor Hall on the left wing and Anton Slepyshev on the right. Hall was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, while Slepyshev will also be making his NHL debut on Thursday night.

“We all see what he can do in practice and the games,” Hall said of McDavid. “It’s important to remember he’s 18. I’m 23 and I still have bad games. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world and still has bad games. There’s going to be some trials and some errors, but I think that he’s in a position to succeed and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow.”

Oilers coach Todd McLellan, hired in May after spending seven seasons with the San Jose Sharks, has already gotten accustomed to receiving questions about McDavid.

The first few questions McLellan was asked on Thursday were about the NHL’s most popular newcomer.

“What I’ve found with him is he’s working really hard to just be himself and fit in,” the coach said. “He doesn’t want to be special, he doesn’t want to be treated any differently but he obviously is. He’s trying to adapt to that and he’s doing a very good job of it personally and collectively I think our team has done a good job around him.”

McLellan said there are three levels of pressure surrounding him.

The first is McDavid’s individual expectations, which he is sure are extremely high. The second comes from the rookie’s teammates, coaching staff, organization and city of Edmonton.

“But where it really changes is the national, international and world-wide eyes being on him,” McLellan said. “How does that compare to some of the other players I’ve been around? I haven’t been around an 18-year-old who has had to deal with that. It’s new to all of us.

“I did spend some time talking to Sid (Sidney Crosby) about his experience and even since then the world’s really changed as far as media and social media and that type of stuff. This is a new adventure for everybody involved. I know Connor has the tools to handle the pressure and we’ll do everything we can to help him.”

Bruins’ second line officially goes under the microscope


While much has been written about the Boston Bruins’ depleted defense, there’s also a good amount of intrigue about the forward group, which will look dramatically different tonight compared to last year’s season opener.

Here are the Bruins’ expected lines versus the Jets:

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronLoui Eriksson
Matt BeleskeyDavid KrejciDavid Pastrnak
Jimmy HayesRyan SpoonerBrett Connolly
Chris KellyJoonas KemppainenZac Rinaldo

The line most under the microscope may be that second one. In today’s Boston Globe, there’s a lengthy story on Krejci. The 29-year-old center with the big contract only played 47 games last season due to injuries. He finished with just 31 points.

So, where is Krejci’s game now?

Then there’s free-agent addition Matt Beleskey, a.k.a. Milan Lucic‘s replacement. Prior to scoring 22 times last year for the Ducks, the 27-year-old Beleskey had never tallied more than 11 goals in a season.

So, is Beleskey a legitimate top-six forward?

On the other wing, it’s David Pastrnak, the 19-year-old who, somewhat surprisingly, emerged as one of the top rookies in the league last year.

So, can Pastrnak take another step forward?

“It’s been a good three plus weeks where we’ve been able to kind of work individually, as a group, as a line, with different players and different personalities,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’re pleased with it. We’re optimistic and we just have to let things work themselves out too.”