WATCH LIVE: Rangers host Penguins on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Both of these teams are headed in the right direction after rough stretches earlier this season. For Pittsburgh, a 1-7-2 mark from late October into November dropped its record to 7-8-4 and they sat last in the Metro. They’ve since turned things around and their current win streak has catapulted them into the top-3 in the division on the strength of both a strong offensive and defensive showing.

New York, meanwhile, and first-year head coach David Quinn, began the season 0-3-0 and lost 11 of 14 (3-6-5) since Thanksgiving before going on the road and winning its last two games at Nashville and St. Louis. The Rangers return home now, but only briefly as they are in the midst of a period that takes them on the road (see schedule below) after they ended 2018 with a majority of home games.

Pittsburgh’s “Big 3” is leading the way once again as Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin are the top three on the team in points. Crosby has 48 points (18G-30A) in 36 games this season, a 1.33 points per game clip. He hasn’t had a scoring rate that high in a full season since 2009-10 (1.35 ppg).

Perhaps the best story on the Rangers this season has been the play of Chris Kreider, who leads the team with 20 goals (2nd-best is Mika Zibanejad w/ 11). You’ll remember he missed 24 games last season with a blood clot. Kreider has an active 5-game point streak (5G-3A)

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Penguins-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Tanner PearsonDerick Brassard – Phil Kessel
Zach Aston-ReeseMatt CullenRiley Sheahan

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson
Olli MaattaJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

RANGERS
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Jesper Fast
Vladislav NamestnikovKevin HayesMats Zuccarello
Boo NievesBrett HowdenPavel Buchnevich
Cody McLeodRyan StromeFilip Chytil

Marc StaalNeal Pionk
Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid
Fredrik ClaessonKevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Penguins-Rangers from Madison Square Garden.

How should Rangers approach the trade deadline?

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Whether by design or not, the New York Rangers have been better than expected so far in 2018-19.

Despite waving the white flag of rebuild, they’re only one point behind the Islanders for third place in the Metro, which would help them sneak into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With five of their next six games at home, they might even make that jump, at least briefly.

But, honestly, it still seems like the Rangers should be sellers come trade deadline time.

Just about every stat points to slippage, if not a collapse. They remain one of the weakest possession teams in the NHL, but you can go simpler and merely look at their -10 goal differential so far this season.

So, the Rangers should sell … but how far should they go?

Let’s run down some of the most interesting considerations, from the no-brainers to more far-fetched scenarios, like actually trading Hank.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Mats Zuccarello: 31 years old, $4.5 million

It looks like the veteran winger-wizard could return Friday, which would mark his first game since Nov. 23. It also seems like Zuccarello realizes a trade might happen, as he discussed with Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post.

“There’s no secret that it’s out there. For me, I prepare for everything, try to do my best as long as I’m here. Hopefully I’m here for a long time. If not, it’s nothing I can control.”

The Norwegian forward doesn’t have much power over the situation, but the Rangers have the power to get maximum bang for their buck if they do part ways with Zuccarello.

Before he began his injury absence, Zuccarello was on a five-game pointless drought, and he failed to score in seven of his last eight games, managing a goal and an assist in one productive game during that span. Despite that slump, his overall season numbers are reasonable (10 points in 17 games), and it wouldn’t be surprising if he surged into the trade deadline.

Considering his reasonable cap hit and track record as someone who comes in at 53-61 points during a healthy season, Zuccarello would be a boon for virtually every contender looking for a skillful rental.

For all we know, the Rangers could convince him to come back after a brief run somewhere else, which doesn’t seem outrageous after seeing Zuccarello describe New York as his “second home.”

That scenario would be a “eat your cake and have it too” scenario, as the Rangers could land some assets, but not go too long with a rebuild, if they got Zuccarello back.

Either way, trading Zuccarello seems like the right call. If I were a contender, he’d also be  a very, very desirable target.

Kevin Hayes, 26, $5.175M

In the latest edition of “31 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman reported that the Boston Bruins might have some interest in Boston native Hayes, which wasn’t the first time the team was connected with the player. Friedman also pointed to Colorado as a team that could really use some more support at center.

While Zuccarello could be “pumped up,” it’s hard to imagine opinions going any higher on Hayes. He has 21 points in 30 games this season, including two goals and two assists over his last two contests. At this .70-point-per-game pace (about 54 points over 82 games), Hayes could very well shatter his career-high of 49 points. He’s getting easily the most ice time of his career (19:14 TOI average), and Hayes’ possession numbers are at least strong relative to his teammates.

Is this a straight-up “pump-and-dump?” I have no clue, but the Rangers should be giddy if they can get serious assets for Hayes.

In the case of Hayes (in particular) and Zuccarello (to a lesser extent), the Rangers might also be willing to retain salary to make a trade work with a cash-strapped contender. After all, they’d only be on the hook for a portion of that cap hit for the remainder of this season, so it wouldn’t block future efforts.

(According to Cap Friendly, the Rangers are retaining one of two possible salaries, as they’re absorbing $900K from the Ryan SpoonerRyan Strome trade through this season and 2019-20.)

TWO YEARS LEFT

Chris Kreider, 27, $4.625M expires after 2019-20

The Rangers have quite a collection of players with two years remaining, but Kreider’s the headliner because he poses such interesting questions to New York.

If they wanted to move Kreider, you’d expect a hefty return. The winger presents something for everyone. Old-school types should like his nastiness. Analytics-minded execs will notice that his underlying stats have basically always towered above his teammates. His size is a strength, and just about everyone should love his speed relative to that formidable frame.

His contract is also wonderful for a contender: it’s a bargain, and you’d get two playoff runs out of it. If the agitating winger rubs people the wrong way, at least the term is short enough that you could cut ties. Just about perfect.

Those very factors should also register with the Rangers, especially if they’re looking at this as an extremely quick rebuild. If I were running the show, I’d hesitate to move Kreider, unless the ransom was just undeniable.

Vladislav Namestnikov, 26, $4M through 2019-20 and others

The Rangers have quite a few other two-year deals they could move. Getting more for Namestnikov would only increase the quantity of assets they’ve garnered from moving Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller.

There are other, cheaper options, too. Someone might like Jesper Fast, 27, at a cool $1.85M. Jimmy Vesey (25, $2.275M) and Ryan Strome (25, $3.1M) could fit into more complicated trades. Similarly, Matt Beleskey’s $1.9M cap hit might work for cap fodder.

THE WHOPPER

Henrik Lundqvist, 36, $8.5M through 2020-21

Back in a May episode of The Hockey PDOcast, former Rangers staffer William Kawam described essentially being laughed at when bringing up trading Lundqvist during a discussion that a bunch of team execs, including Rangers GM Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers were courageous in sending out a rebuilding press release last season, but are they trade-Lundqvist brave? I’m not so sure. Especially in the event that Lundqvist wouldn’t want to relocate, which would limit options to local rivals, like the goalie-needy Islanders.

But it’s a topic that should be broached, however gingerly, for a wide array of reasons.

And it’s not just about brushing their long-time icon aside. Lundqvist wants to win a Stanley Cup, so a change of scenery would make sense for the competitive goalie. (Granted, that argument wouldn’t go too far if the only option really is the Isles. Yes, they’re better than expected, but a contender? That’s a tough sell.)

There really might not be a better time for the Rangers to trade Lundqvist and still get something back for him, particularly if he actually would leave his comfort zone. A wide array of teams would find their ears perking up by the concept of landing Lundqvist. Imagine how much interest might rise if the Rangers ate at least some of that $8.5M cap hit to make something work?

So, there’s already a lot of demand for goalies, from the Islanders, Flyers, and Hurricanes to, perhaps even the Flames?

If courageous enough to do so, the Rangers would be wise to be proactive, especially if the Blackhawks decide to bite the bullet with Corey Crawford and/or the Kings embrace reality and move Jonathan Quick.

It helps that Lundqvist’s enjoyed a pretty strong 2018-19 season, at least for a 36-year-old. King Henrik has a .916 save percentage through 23 games, and that’s with a tough mini-stretch (nine goals allowed in two contest) putting a slight damper on his numbers.

Moving Lundqvist would require “ice water in the veins,” yet you can argue that there might not be a better time to do it than between now and the 2019 trade deadline.

***

The Rangers could get really creative with this situation, if they’d like.

Would they absorb problem contracts from contenders either during the deadline or during 2019 NHL Draft weekend, maybe taking a bribe to accept the last year of Ryan Callahan/Patrick Marleau/etc.? Might they go even further by stomaching even tougher, longer deals (Brent Seabrook? Milan Lucic?) if they view this as a rebuild that requires more drastic surgeries? Things could get really interesting if they instead convinced someone else to take on Marc Staal or Kevin Shattenkirk.

One thing’s clear: the Rangers would likely miss out on some golden opportunities if they did nothing.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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: Rangers visit Flyers in 2018 NHL Thanksgiving Showdown

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday’s NHL Thanksgiving Showdown between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers at 1 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It’s a meeting of two teams currently heading in different directions. The Flyers have spun their wheels for most of the season while dealing with numerous injuries to their goaltending. That’s led to a 9-10-2 start and a seat near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. It was only two weeks ago they were on a nice 5-0-1 run.

The Rangers, on the other hand, have come around after a slow start under new head coach David Quinn. The Blueshirts are 9-1-1 in their last 11 games and find themselves tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets atop the Metropolitan Division.

“We were 3-7-1 at one point, and I don’t think the feeling in this room was that (bad). We felt we had a chance to win a lot of those games,” said forward Kevin Hayes. “We stuck with it. We’re a hard-working team. Our coach preaches hard work, and I feel like we do that all year and now we’re stringing together some wins.”

One of the nice surprises during this run has been 19-year-old Filip Chytil, who is riding a five-game goal streak. That makes him the 20th different teenager in NHL history to record a goal in five or more consecutive team games

How important is playoff position on Thanksgiving Day? History says it’s a good indication of which teams will be in the postseason. Here are how things have shaped up since the NHL adopted its current playoff format:

Since 2001-02, at least three teams each season have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs after being outside the postseason picture at Thanksgiving.

While Philadelphia does not currently occupy a playoff spot, the Flyers were not in playoff position on Thanksgiving last season and ultimately made the playoffs by going 34-17-9 (77 pts) the rest of the way.

[WATCH LIVE – 1 PM ET – NBC]

What: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Wells Fargo Center
When: Friday, November 23rd, 1 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Rangers-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
Vladislav NamestnikovMika ZibanejadJesper Fast
Mats ZuccarelloLias AnderssonSteven Fogarty
Chris Kreider – Kevin Hayes – Filip Chytil
Jimmy VeseyBrett HowdenRyan Strome

Brady SkjeiTony DeAngelo
Marc StaalNeal Pionk
Fredrik ClaessonKevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

FLYERS
Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Dale WeiseNolan PatrickJakub Voracek
James van RiemsdykJordan WealWayne Simmonds
Oskar LindblomScott Laughton – Tyrell Goulbourne

Ivan ProvorovRobert Hagg
Shayne GostisbehereChristian Folin
Travis SanheimRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Calvin Pickard

Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Day at Ovechkin’s office: Capitals edge Rangers in OT

The Washington Capitals outlasted the New York Rangers in what was largely a game of inches and lethal power-play units.

Matt Niskanen ultimately notched the difference-maker in Washington’s 4-3 overtime win as the Capitals ended a losing streak at two games. The rebuilding Rangers provided a pretty spirited showing, holding their own as the Capitals generated a modest 38-32 shots on goal advantage.

Here’s that Niskanen game-winner:

Each power-play unit went 2-for-4 on Wednesday, with the Capitals taking advantage of the “Death and Taxes” certainty of Alex Ovechkin scoring from “his office.” Both of Ovechkin’s power-play goals came from almost the exact same spot, with the main difference being that the second one caught Henrik Lundqvist a bit more by surprise (in part because he shot low).

John Carlson ranked as one of the Capitals’ standout performers in this win, generating one goal and two assists.

The Rangers enjoyed strong nights from their own first line, as both Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider authored one-goal, one-assist performances while creating plenty of other chances. (Jesper Fast was also busy, although he failed to generate any points.)

Circling back to that “game of inches” point, consider that Washington barely avoided a goal, as Christian Djoos saved the day early on:

While Ovechkin was close to nabbing yet another hat trick:

The Rangers and Capitals approach the 2018-19 season with very different expectations, yet each team saw their veteran goalies manage some nice stops, enjoyed strong nights from their top guns, and generally put on a nice show on NBCSN.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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: Rangers visit Capitals on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

After a hot start to the 2018-19 season that saw them score 18 goals in their first three games, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals have dropped back-to-back games and been outscored by a 10-2 margin during that stretch. They look to end that brief two-game slide on Wednesday night when they host their divisional rivals, the New York Rangers, at the Capital One Arena in the nation’s capital.

The Rangers, meanwhile, come into the game having won two of their past three games after dropping three in a row to open the season but are still searching for their first regulation win of the season. It will be the first meeting of the season between the two teams after the Capitals took three out of four from the Rangers a year ago.

The Capitals boast one of the league’s deepest lineups and are led by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov has been one of the hottest players in the league to start the year with five goals and four assists in his first five games.

Trying to slow them down will be Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who has been off to an outstanding start as he enters the game with a .939 save percentage in his first five appearances.

What: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Wednesday, October 17th, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Rangers-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Projected Lineups

New York Rangers

Forwards

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadJesper Fast
Filip ChytilKevin HayesMats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Brett Howden – Vladislav Namestnikov
Cody McLeodRyan SpoonerVinni Lettieri

Defense

Brady SkjeiNeal Pionk
Marc StaalBrendan Smith
Fredrik ClaessonKevin Shattenkirk

Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[WATCH LIVE – 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Washington Capitals

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Chandler Stephenson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerBrett Connolly
Nathan WalkerNic DowdDevante Smith-Pelly

Defense

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting Goalie: Braden Holtby

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.