Get your game notes: Wild at Penguins

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins hosting the Minnesota Wild at 7 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

• Matchup between one team in need of a win (MIN) and another team looking to keep pace in their conference (PIT) and potentially overtake their division leader (NYI).

• MIN fading: Since Dec. 16, MIN has lost 11 of its last 13 (2-7-4) and is 0-4-1 in its last 5.

• During this 13-game stretch, MIN has lost all 4 games that have reached OT (and lost them all in OT).

• MIN: Outscored by 2.80 goals/game in last 5 games – tied (with BUF) for worst margin in the NHL among any team’s last 5 games. (Elias)

• The Wild’s rough patch can be attributed to the quality of opponents they have faced including league-leading NSH and CHI (twice) – a team only 2 points back of the Preds – in their last 3 games.

• The road ahead looks a bit less formidable with upcoming matchups against BUF, AZ & CBJ before the All-Star break.

• This is the worst 13-game stretch (8 points) for MIN since: Dec. 6-Jan. 2 last season (8 points: 4-9-0)

• MIN last lost 11 of 13 games: Dec. 20-Jan. 19, 2012 (2-9-2)

• This is the worst 5-game stretch (1 point) for MIN since: Dec. 19-Dec. 31 last season (0-6-0)

• Mike Yeo, rumored to be on the coaching hot seat, received this vote of confidence from MIN GM Chuck Fletcher on Thursday, “Not even factored into the equation – he‟s our coach. We do not have a coaching issue.”

• Yeo served as an Assistant Coach for the Penguins (2005-10) after being an assistant on their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton from 2000-05.

• The funeral for J.P. Parise, former NHLer and father of MIN F Zach Parise, who died of lung cancer last Wednesday at the age of 73, will be Friday – an off day for the Wild – in Edina, MN.

• Zach missed 2 games last week to be with his family and returned to play in the Wild‟s last two games.

• PIT slumping: 3 wins in last 9 games (3-4-2) after 22-6-4 start – this is their worst stretch all season.

• With a loss, PIT will have lost 7 of 10 games for the first time since Feb. 20-Mar. 12, 2011 (3-3-4).

• PIT lost 2 straight at home (first time this season) after starting season 15-5-1 at CONSOL.

• MIN lost 3 straight on the road – tonight is 2nd of 3-gm road trip & stretch of 7 road games in next 9 games.

• Before the first head-to-head meeting this season (4-1 PIT win at MIN on Nov. 4):

• MIN was 7-3-0 (14 points)…since they are 11-15-5 (27 points)

• PIT was 7-2-1 (15 points)…since they are 18-8-5 (41 points)

WILD TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Zach Parise is t-2nd on the team in goals (14 – with Nino Niederreiter; 1 behind Jason Zucker) and 2nd in points (30). Parise is the only player on the Wild with double figures in goals and assists (16).

• Parise: 0 points, -2 rating since returning to team on Saturday (missed 2 games – father’s death)

• Parise career vs. PIT: 37 points (15G-22A) in 46 GP.

• Jason Pominville leads the team in points (32) and assists (23).

• Pominville: led team in goals (30) & points (60) last season.

• Pominville career vs. PIT: 23 points (10G-13A) in 32 GP.

• Ryan Suter leads the league in time on ice/game (29:35) after leading the league in this category the past two seasons…Suter is the lone representative from MIN to be selected to this season’s All-Star Game.

• Suter: 4th on team in points (22).

• Suter: 2nd on team in assists (21 – t-10th among d-men).

• Suter has gone without a point in his last 9 games and scored his only goal in MIN‟s season opener against COL on Oct. 9.

• Nino Niederreiter is tied for 2nd on the team in goals (14) but has gone the last 12 games without one.

• Niederreiter this season – first 29 games: 14G-3A, last 12 games: 0G-3A

• Niklas Backstrom is expected to make his 4th straight start in net: 0-4-2, 3.71 GAA, .878 SV% in last 7 games (5 starts).

PENGUINS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Evgeni Malkin: leads team in goals (19 – t-8th in NHL) & points (47 – t-4th in NHL).

• Malkin: 1 goal, 1 assist in consecutive games.

• Malkin is one of just 3 Pens to have played in all 41 games this season (Nick Spaling, Rob Scuderi).

• Malkin & Sidney Crosby were the PIT selections to this season’s All-Star Game.

• Malkin (47 points) & Crosby (44) are the 2nd-highest scoring duo in the NHL this season behind Jakub Voracek (52) & Claude Giroux (48) of the Flyers.

• Sidney Crosby leads team in assists (32 – t-3rd in NHL); 2nd in points (44 – t-8th in NHL).

• Crosby: scored in last game (1G-5A in last 4 games).

• Crosby career vs. MIN: 10 points (3G-7A) in 8 GP

• Marc-Andre Fleury 2 wins in his last 8 starts (2-3-2, 2.80 GAA, .904 SV%)…but is still having a strong first half of the season:

• 6 shutouts through 33 games lead the NHL – already his career-best for a season.

• 2.16 GAA and .926 SV% this season would be his best season averages in his 11-season career (current bests: 2.32 GAA in 2010-11, .921 SV% in 2007-08).

• Career vs. MIN: 0-5-0, 3.76 GAA, .853 SV%

• Minnesota is the only team (other than Pittsburgh) that Fleury has not defeated in his career.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson

What should Blackhawks do without Corey Crawford?

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Look, it’s quite possible that Corey Crawford will be back this season for the Chicago Blackhawks.

As of this moment, there are more questions than answers, with semantic arguments bubbling up about whether he’s dealing with concussion issues, vertigo, or what. Either way, it’s an unfortunate situation.

Let’s say the very bad happens and the Blackhawks won’t get their crucial goalie back as they try to claw their way into a playoff spot in the competitive Central Division. What should GM Stan Bowman do?

Here are a few scenarios.

Stay put

We can debate where Crawford ranks among the NHL’s best goalies (is he a top-five guy, top 10, elite?), but it’s fair to say that he’s had one of the toughest gigs. It’s a good thing that he produced a fantastic .929 save percentage this season, because Chicago’s defense isn’t what it once was. They’re tied for the eighth-most shots allowed per game (32.6) and are in the top 10 in most high-danger chances allowed (via Natural Stat Trick).

Jeff Glass is a great story, and he’s provided very acceptable backup-level work alongside Anton Forsberg (Glass’s save percentage is .910, Forsberg’s at .911).

That’s heartening, but the bottom line is that the Blackhawks rank at the bottom of the Central with this mix of Crawford’s great goaltending and respectable work from Glass/Forsberg. They may only sink with Glass and Forsberg, and that’s assuming that those two don’t fall apart altogether.

The more uncomfortable question is: maybe they should just “Take the L” and regroup for next season? As is, it’s tough to imagine the Blackhawks making the playoffs, or making any noise if they do make it.

If they would rather not punt this season, then a trade would be the best option to explore.

Go after an obvious guy

The Detroit Red Wings want to move Petr Mrazek. If Crawford goes on IR, Chicago might not even need Detroit to retain much/any of Mrazek’s $4M, possibly making the asking price more reasonable.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the best of Mrazek (2015-16), but he’s only made 13 appearances in 2017-18, as the Red Wings still haven’t gotten the whole “rebuild” memo yet. Or at least they haven’t read it.

Mrazek would stand as a “high-risk, high-reward” acquisition. You could probably put Buffalo Sabres starter Robin Lehner under that heading, assuming Buffalo would let him go. Logically, you’d think Lehner would be more costly, considering his sneaky-strong individual stats.

TSN’s Frank Seravalli notes that San Jose Sharks backup Aaron Dell might draw some trade interest, with some looking at him as the next backup who might take the next step to become a starter. Chicago could provide Dell with quite the audition in that regard.

The road less traveled

Actually, Dell stands as a template for the type of guys who the Blackhawks might want to at least inquire about: backups who might not be long for their current teams.

Philipp Grubauer is one name that stands out. With a solid .916 save percentage this season and a sparkling .922 mark for his career (81 regular-season games), Grubauer’s excelled when given chances. The problem is that he plays on the same team as Braden Holtby, which means that those chances seldom come.

Grubauer is a pending RFA, and he’s likely to be too expensive for the Washington Capitals after this season. Maybe the Blackhawks can make it worth Washington’s while to acknowledge that likelihood, and get something for him rather than letting him go for less later?

The Blue Jackets still have Joonas Korpisalo through 2018-19, with his contract expiring at the same time as that of Sergei Bobrovsky, so a conversation about “Korpi” likely wouldn’t last too long. Still, why not ask?

One other off-the-beaten path consideration would be Antti Raanta.

The Blackhawks and Coyotes aren’t shy about making moves together, and Raanta’s debut season hasn’t gone as planned in Arizona. The Coyotes might not have necessarily soured on Raanta, but if they decide to go in a different direction in net in the future, maybe it would be worth moving him?

Chicago obviously has experience with Raanta, so that could make it a more comfortable transition as a “rental,” too.

***

Look, the Blackhawks struggled with Crawford in the lineup, playing at an outstanding level. There’s no guarantee that landing a goalie would make the difference, even if that netminder generated great work and didn’t cost a ton in a trade.

On the other hand, this Blackhawks core isn’t getting any younger, while the Central is loaded with teams that have bright futures.

For all we know, this might be one of this team’s last, best shots. GM Stan Bowman needs to turn over every stone to try to find an answer, whether that ends up coming down to making a big move or accepting the painful status quo.

Personally, I’d rotate between grumbling and crying.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.