NHL on NBCSN: Penguins kick off Rivalry Night vs. Capitals

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon 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.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have held up their end of the bargain in maintaining one of the NHL’s most organic rivalries, yet they’re waiting for the Washington Capitals to fully rebound to the form that had hockey fans daydreaming about perennial playoff matches between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

The two teams will renew acquaintances on Wednesday night, as “Rivalry Night” presents quite the appetizing double-header of games.

It’s unclear if Crosby will be able to play tonight, as he’s targeting either Wednesday or Friday as a return date from the lower-body injury that caused some controversy.

The Penguins showed that they can still win down some key players last night, as they cooled the hot Winnipeg Jets 5-3 on the strength of Kris Letang’s impressive five-assist output. With Patric Hornqvist back in the mix, it’s still a group that demands respect from opponents.

Washington shouldn’t be short on respect for the Penguins anyway, as Pittsburgh had won eight straight regular season matchups before a Dec. 27 win by the Caps.

After a stretch in which they earned a point in all but one of 19 games (going 14-1-4), the Capitals are struggling right now, dropping four straight losses. They fell 4-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, even with Sergei Bobrovsky on the mend for quite some time.

On the bright side, Ovechkin has been scoring at a very nice clip. While he didn’t generate a point last night, Ovechkin went into the All-Star break on a three-game multi-point streak (five goals, one assist). With both teams dealing with similar fatigue challenges, Ovechkin could very well be that much tougher to handle.

The Penguins followed Tuesday’s win by trading Marcel Goc for Maxim Lapierre, so we’ll see if the pest makes his Pittsburgh debut tonight.

Thomas Greiss went for the Penguins last night, so one would expect Marc-Andre Fleury to be in Pittsburgh’s net. Similar logic would indicate that Justin Peters may get the nod for Washington, although Braden Holtby’s been enough of a workhorse that both possibilities seem reasonable.

There’s enough on the line that the two squads can really start to rekindle the rivalry tonight. It probably wouldn’t take much to fan the flames there, after all.

Letang’s five assists help the Pens past the Jets

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Despite missing both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin Tuesday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins had no trouble offensively.

Defenseman Kris Letang assisted on all five goals as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-3.

With the win, the Penguins swept the season series. Pittsburgh won the only other meeting 4-3 in a shootout on Nov. 6.

Letang missed the Penguins final game prior to the All-Star break due to a concussion.

“The main thing is the win,” said Letang. “I think the last time we played against them, they banged us pretty hard. They were finishing all of their checks, and again that’s what they tried to do. They tried to be physical on us and get us off our game, but everybody stuck to it.”

Nick Spaling opened the scoring with his seventh of the season.

Chris Thorburn and Jacob Trouba gave Winnipeg a 2-1 lead in the second period.

Steve Downie tied it 2-2 with five seconds remaining in the middle frame; however, Adam Lowry restored the Jets’ lead 59 seconds into the third.

Pittsburgh took over in the third scoring three unanswered.

David Perron and Brandon Sutter had power play goals for the Penguins.

Patric Hornqvist added an empty netter.

With the loss the Jets saw their five-game win streak end. The Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise has now lost 14 straight in Pittsburgh.

Flyers’ Rinaldo suspended eight games for his hit on Letang

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has suspended Philadelphia Flyers’ forward Zac Rinaldo eight games for his hit on Kris Letang.

He will lose $73,170.72 in salary during the suspension.

Rinaldo received a major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct for his hit during the first period of the Flyers’ 3-2 overtime win on Jan. 20.

Rinaldo waived his right to an in-person heading and had a phone hearing on Monday.

The 24-year-old is considered a repeat offender.

He was suspended four games last season for his hit on Sabres’ defenseman Chad Ruhwedel.

Rinaldo received a two-game suspension for dangerous hit on Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson in February 2012.

Letang, who is believed to have suffered a concussion as a result of the Rinaldo hit, practiced Monday and could be an option for the Penguins Tuesday when they play host to the Winnipeg Jets.

Rinaldo is eligible to return to the Flyers’ lineup on Feb. 17 when Philadelphia plays host to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Malkin on IR, Crosby misses skate, Letang practices (Updated)

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were both absent for the All-Star Game due to lower-body injuries. Now that the regular season is set to resume, the question is how much more time will they miss.

Malkin has been placed on the injured reserve list, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari, although that might be primarily a paper move. It’s likely retroactive Jan. 20, which means that he’s still eligible to play on Wednesday against Washington (NBCSN, 8:00 p.m. ET). With that in mind, the bigger news might be that he didn’t practice Monday.

Crosby wasn’t on the ice either, although that was anticipated. He’s not eligible to play Tuesday after skipping the All-Star festivities, but he’s also a possibility for Wednesday’s contest.

In contrast to the star duo, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was able to take part in Monday’s practice. It’s believed that he sustained a concussion due to a hit from Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo. The Flyers forward had a hearing today, but the NHL hasn’t announced the verdict yet.

Update: Letang hopes to play Tuesday, but Penguins coach Mike Johnston cautioned that he hasn’t received medical clearance yet, per the team’s Twitter feed. Johnston also doesn’t think Malkin will skate for a few days.

Video: Toews, Kane lead Blackhawks over shorthanded Pens

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Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane scored in the shootout helping the Chicago Blackhawks edge the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 Wednesday night.

David Rundblad and Marian Hossa got the Blackhawks out to 2-0 lead.

Zach Sill’s first career goal and Steve Downie’s eighth of the season helped the Penguins even the score at 2-2 after 40 minutes.

Pittsburgh was without defenseman Kris Letang and center Evgeni Malkin due to injuries.

The Penguins head into the all star break without a win in four straight games.

Corey Crawford improved to 18-10-2 with a 33 save performance.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 24 shots in the loss.

The two teams will meet again next month in Chicago.