Mike Halford

Marc-Andre Fleury; Joffrey Lupul

Pittsburgh gets Crosby, Letang back tonight

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The Penguins are getting a pair of key reinforcements back for Saturday’s tilt in Minnesota.

Sidney Crosby, who missed the final game prior to the break, and Kris Letang — out since Dec. 9 with an upper-body ailment — will draw back in, per head coach Mike Sullivan.

Crosby took this morning’s skate centering David Perron and Chris Kunitz, while Letang was in a defensive pairing alongside Olli Maatta.

“I feel good,” Crosby said, per the Pens website. “To get basically a week (off) has been good. I’m happy with the way I felt this morning.

“It’s just a matter of trusting that you can go out there and take hits. It’s different from a morning skate, but you have to be confident about it. I felt good today. That’s a good thing.”

White, Werenski, Matthews push U.S. past Canada in World Juniors opener

during the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.

Prior to the start of the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships, USA Hockey named Columbus prospect Zach Weresnki team captain, with Louie Belpedio (Minnesota), Colin White (Ottawa, pictured) and Auston Matthews (’16 Draft) as the alternates.

And on day one of the tournament, those all proved to be wise choices.

Belpedio scored the winner while White — named player of the game — Werenski and Matthews each finished with a goal and assist to give the U.S. a 4-2 win over Canada in Helsinki.

Things couldn’t have started much better for the U.S.

But, in saying that, they also couldn’t have started much worse.

In the opening period, forward Alex DeBrincat was ejected for spearing Team Canada forward Travis Konecny. A highly-talented offensive player — DeBrincat leads the OHL in scoring — it was unclear how the U.S. would react to losing him for the remainder of the contest.

Just fine, apparently.

After Matthew Barzal gave Canada a 1-0 lead, White responded on assists from Sonny Milano and Christian Dvorak, which set the stage for an eventful third period.

Werenski opened the scoring on the power play to make it 2-1 for the Americans, only for Dylan Strome — the third overall pick in 2015 (Arizona) — to reply for the Canadians midway through the frame.

Strome’s marker wouldn’t stand for long.

Belpedio scored roughly six minutes later, aided by a deflection from Canada’s Joe Hicketts. Matthews then scored the insurance marker with less than three minutes remaining, to put the game to bed.

Goalie nods: Pens stick with AHL standout Murray in Minnesota

Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal (12) collides with Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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After strong efforts in his first two NHL contests, Matt Murray is headed back in for a third.

Murray will start ahead of Jeff Zatkoff in goal when the Penguins take on the Wild in Minnesota. Murray, the AHL’s reigning rookie and goalie of the year, was recalled to Pittsburgh after Marc-Andre Fleury was diagnosed with a concussion, and has fared well — in two games, Murray’s posted a .920 save percentage and 2.00 GAA.

On Monday, he recorded his first-ever NHL win in a 5-2 victory over Columbus.

Devan Dubnyk will be in goal for the Wild.

Elsewhere…

Chad Johnson goes for the Sabres in Buffalo. No confirmation from Boston yet, but Jonas Gustavsson looks to be the starter.

— Joonas Korpisalo will get the nod ahead of Curtis McElhinney for Columbus (Sergei Bobrovsky is still not ready to return from injury). No word yet on who the Bolts will start, but Ben Bishop would seem the choice.

— The Habs will go back to Mike Condon over Dustin Tokarski in the hopes of finding some consistency in goal. Braden Holtby, my pick for the Vezina, is in goal for the Caps, as per usual.

— Devils workhorse Cory Schneider gets the call out of the break, as New Jersey plays in Carolina. Cam Ward appears likely for the ‘Canes.

— Big Central Division clash in St. Louis tonight as the Blues host the Stars. Dallas appears ready to go with Antti Niemi, while Jake Allen (Brough’s Vezina pick) is in for the Blues.

Petr Mrazek‘s in net for Detroit as the Wings play in Nashville. Preds will go with Pekka Rinne.

— Arizona will stick with in-form rookie Louis Domingue ahead of struggling veteran Anders Lindback. The visiting Kings appear ready to start Jonathan Quick.

— No Ryan Miller again for the Canucks, so it’s Jacob Markstrom in goal against the Oilers. No word yet on who goes for Edmonton.

USA’s DeBrincat tossed from World Juniors opener for spearing

DeBrincat3
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Pretty eventful opening day of the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships.

Not long after Team Sweden and Leafs prospect William Nylander was knocked out of action by a huge hit versus Switzerland, Alex DeBrincat — the American forward considered by many to be a first-round pick at next year’s draft — was tossed for spearing Canadian forward and Flyers prospect Travis Konecny.

DeBrincat, 18, currently leads the Ontario Hockey League in scoring, having piled up 33 goals and 56 points — in just 30 games — for OHL Erie.

Konecny, also 18, was taken 24th overall by Philly at the ’15 draft, and impressed the team at training camp before being returned to OHL Ottawa.

The two teams went into the first intermission tied 0-0.

After getting roughed up by Devils, Larkin (upper body) to miss first game of the year

Teemu Pulkkinen, Dylan Larkin
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No Dylan Larkin for Detroit tonight as it opens a three-game road swing in Nashville.

Larkin, the prized rookie phenom that’s firmly in the running for the Calder Trophy, is out with an upper-body injury, head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed on Saturday.

This development comes just days after Blashill took issues with New Jersey’s treatment of Larkin during the Devils’ 4-3 win on Tuesday, a game in which Larkin missed time following a hit from defenseman John Moore.

Blashill also took issue with how the referees handled the incident (Moore wasn’t penalized on the play).

“I think referees throughout the league have to know that young stars in the league, when they get targeted, they’ve got to make sure they do a good job of calling penalties, even if they’re close,” Blashill said, per MLive. “We don’t want our young stars in the league getting targeted and we don’t want lots of fighting anymore, so we better make sure we look after them a little bit that way.

“So if it’s close, let’s make sure we look after them.”

Larkin, 19, is enjoying a terrific first year in the NHL. He leads the Red Wings in goals, with 13, and sits second on the team in points, with 24 in 34 games.

Tomas Nosek, a 23-year-old Czech forward, has been called up from AHL Grand Rapids to take Larkin’s spot in the lineup.