<span class="vcard">James O'Brien</span>

Steve Downie, Michael Latta

Penguins sit Downie on Thursday

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are getting healthier as of late, which means that lineup decisions are going to be a little tougher. Even so, it’s a bit surprising to see Steve Downie out of the mix against the Ottawa Senators tonight, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari notes.

At the moment, it sounds like it was a healthy scratch.

Downie is no stranger to taking penalties, and it sounds like there’s at least a chance that one justified his night in the press box according to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe.

Downie has nine goals and 22 points to go along with a league-leading 173 penalty minutes in 49 games this season.

In more pleasant Penguins news, it sounds like Christian Ehrhoff is getting closer to returning to Pittsburgh’s lineup.

Updated: It wasn’t pretty, but the Penguins won in a shootout without the pesky forward.

Despite injuries, Wild GM is resisting panic trades

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Rounds 2-7
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Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has made a big difference when it comes to proactive trades, but it sounds like he’s doing his best not to react in the wrong way to a spate of injuries.

The walking Wild wounded keep growing, yet he’s trying to keep a cool head for now, as he told ESPN.

“Every time you have injuries, you can’t just run out to the market and pull the trigger to fill the hole that’s been created,” Fletcher said. “Sometimes you can do it, but you can’t go out and force things. The first look always has to be inside your group and hopefully there’s opportunity there for players to either move up in the lineup or players to get called up and play. You can’t always look to the outside.”

One can see the motivation to throw down the gauntlet, though, especially with Jason Zucker joining a list of players who are dealing with significant issues including Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter.

While the Wild are on a roll in large part thanks to Fletcher’s decision to pull the trigger and trade for Devan Dubnyk, they’re still on the outside looking in on a playoff spot. They’re four points behind the Calgary Flames (wtih a game in hand) and seven behind the Winnipeg Jets (though with three more games than them). They barely lead the likes of the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars atop the bubble outside the wild card ranks, too.

Considering all the moves Fletcher has made at previous deadlines, there comes a point when those investments must pay off. It sounds like he’s going to give them a chance to do so before rolling the dice once more.

The Wild face a team that may relate to their buffer scenario (only in the East) in the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

NHL on NBCSN: Sharks strive to break slump against Capitals

San Jose Sharks v Washington Capitals
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign with Wednesday’s second game as the San Jose Sharks host the Washington Capitals at the SAP Center at 10:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

The month of February simply hasn’t started off well for the San Jose Sharks, who host the Washington Capitals on NBCSN tonight.

Slumping Sharks

Beginning with a shootout loss against the Edmonton Oilers, the Sharks have dropped four of five games to begin this month, including two straight losses at home. If Washington continues this trend, San Jose will squander a brief-but-key three-game homestand.

At this point, the Sharks have to know that just about every stretch means something. Losing to the Calgary Flames on Monday bumped them down to third in the Pacific Division. When you consider games in hand and other factors, San Jose’s not as far above the Western Conference bubble as the Sharks may seem, either.

That’s not to say that the Sharks have all the motivation by any means.

If the Capitals aren’t careful, they could face similar problems when it comes to bubble teams being closer than they seem. Washington seems to have shaken off a frustrating run of losses to end January, but they’re beginning a very challenging four-game road trip in San Jose on Wednesday.

The two teams played an early regular season game on Oct. 14 as the Sharks edged the Capitals 6-5 via a shootout. While they aren’t particularly familiar opponents, there’s plenty of talent to go around with the Sharks’ slew of forwards (Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau) going up against Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Washington’s expensive defensive corps.

If we get Braden Holtby vs. Antti Niemi in net, we’ll get to see a match between two goalies hoping to earn big contracts after this season.

We don’t see the Capitals face the Sharks very often, but it could be an entertaining match to close out Wednesday’s back-to-back set of NBCSN games.

(Check out this preview of the Detroit Red Wings – Pittsburgh Penguins game here.)

Evander Kane to Buffalo? Trade talks are reportedly heating up

Winnipeg Jets v Pittsburgh Penguins
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It sounds like the Buffalo Sabres want to cut to the front of the line, skip the bidding war, and acquire Evander Kane from the Winnipeg Jets sooner rather than later.

That’s the word from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger on Wednesday, as the two report that talks are heating up (even if a deal isn’t done yet).

The Sabres make sense as a destination for Kane, whose shoulder surgery conceivably limits his value to contenders at the trade deadline. McKenzie points out that the Sabres obviously have some nice future assets to work with, too, which might entice the Jets to pull the trigger now instead of in the summer:

This adds a little fuel to the fire, too:

One can imagine that the 23-year-old might not be too enthusiastic about the prospect of playing in Buffalo. It could be a painful rebuild for a winger who doesn’t have a single NHL playoff game on his resume.

That said, Kane would easily be the featured star in the Sabres’ offense (alongside the premium prospect they’re nearly certain to land in the 2015 NHL Draft). If nothing else, the unfamiliar sensation of playing on the third line – as he did at times this season – will probably not surface very often for Kane in Buffalo.

The Sabres advantage is clear in that they get a developed NHL player to skip a few years of development, as they’ll be doing plenty of that in the near future. The Jets get some assets in the deal, though Winnipeg may be growing weary of the patient approach.

There are likely to be other teams that want to get on the bidding, and trade situations are frequently fluid, but it is at least a situation to watch.

NHL on NBCSN: Penguins, Red Wings kick off latest Rivalry Night

Pittsburgh Penguins v Detroit Red Wings - Game Two
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Detroit Red Wings at the Consol Energy Center at 8:00 p.m. ET tonight as part of a back-to-back set of games on NBCSN on Wednesday. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

A lot has changed since the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins faced off in the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Final, but in some ways, plenty of key factors remain.

Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are still the go-to guys for the Red Wings offense, even with the rise of younger players such as Gustav Nyquist. The Penguins still seemingly go as far as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang can take them, even if the supporting cast (and front office) has changed dramatically.

From a more recent perspective, Pittsburgh hasn’t played since the Vancouver Canucks crushed them 5-0 on Saturday.

That sour end to their Western Canada road trip should provide plenty of inspiration as they host the Red Wings. Getting plenty of rest – at least by season standards – might be the biggest thing, really.

(Then again, the Red Wings have been off since Saturday as well, so each team should be as fresh as possible on Feb. 11.)

While the Penguins have been stumbling a bit, the Red Wings have been hot more or less since 2015 rolled around, most obviously considering their three-game winning streak. They’ve also won nine of 10 games as Petr Mrazek has really softened the blow of losing Jimmy Howard (who’s expected to suit up as a backup tonight).

The Penguins may or may not get Blake Comeau back in the lineup on Wednesday. Whenever Comeau can play, he might feel a little dizzy trying to fit into a lineup that’s changed quite a bit since he last played six weeks ago.

Whatever each team is going through at the time, the Penguins and Red Wings shouldn’t struggle to drum up some interest for the first of Wednesday’s two Rivalry Night games on NBCSN.