WATCH LIVE: Crosby’s Penguins vs. McDavid’s Oilers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Never beating the Pittsburgh Penguins when Sidney Crosby‘s been in the lineup is the least of Connor McDavid‘s concerns, but it’s one of the many ways you can remind people that the Edmonton Oilers haven’t really put him in a position to succeed.

It’s almost too fitting that McDavid’s been fantastic in the five Oilers losses against the Penguins, generating nine points in those games, but not yet getting the win.

[Comparing McDavid’s early days to Lemieux’s troubles]

Both superstar players are hurting for a win, but not really because of an easily packaged rivalry.

Instead, their teams simply need it. The Oilers are a Dumpster fire right now, with things being so bad that Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman discussed rumblings about Ken Hitchcock straight-up wanting to walk away.

Things aren’t as dour for the Penguins, but they don’t have a large margin for error when it comes to making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so they’ll be keyed-in. With injuries mounting for the Pens, they might ask Crosby to do even more than usual. McDavid can relate.

One benefit for McDavid is that Evgeni Malkin won’t suit up, as he’s serving a one-game suspension for his wild stick-swinging at Flyers forward Michael Raffl.

Is it too greedy to hope that all of these circumstances will lead to another great duel between number 87 and number 97? Maybe, but let’s cross our fingers for that, anyway.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Edmonton Oilers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Oilers-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

OILERS

Leon Draisaitl — Connor McDavid — Zack Kassian

Jujhar KhairaRyan Nugent-HopkinsJesse Puljujarvi

Milan Lucic — Brad Malone — Alex Chiasson

Tobias RiederColby CaveTy Rattie

Oscar KlefbomAdam Larsson

Darnell NurseKris Russell

Alexander PetrovicKevin Gravel

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

PENGUINS

Jake Guentzel — Sidney Crosby — Bryan Rust

Tanner PearsonNick BjugstadPhil Kessel

Teddy Blueger — Jared McCannPatric Hornqvist

Zach Aston-ReeseMatt CullenGarrett Wilson

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Juuso RiikolaJack Johnson

Marcus PetterssonChad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie. Additionally, Kathryn Tappen will be providing reports and conducting interviews on-site in Pittsburgh.

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.

Should Penguins spend at trade deadline to replace Maatta?

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Sometimes, when a struggling defenseman gets injured, there can be a sort of dark silver lining: it may force a coach to play someone better. Considering how tough it is to find good defensemen, though, there’s the scarier – and probably more likely – reality that they’d be replaced by someone even worse.

That’s the situation the Pittsburgh Penguins are struggling with right now, as they announced that Olli Maatta is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury suffered during Monday’s win against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Considering that Evgeni Malkin might get suspended for his stick-swinging, that could be a costly win in the short-term, but the long-term implications are more fascinating.

Should the Penguins dip into the trade market for a defenseman, preferably of the top-four variety?

A thin group

Again, there’s no denying that Maatta has been struggling mightily for some time, but more Jack Johnson is frightening, as you can see from how pitiful they both look via Bill Comeau’s SKATR comparison tool, which uses Corsica’s data.

/Insert horror movie scream.

As far as other Penguins defensemen go:

Schultz has missed most of the season with a pretty freakish injury, having not played since Oct. 13. It seems like he’s slated to return soon, but expecting him to hit the ground running with heavy minutes seems like asking a lot — yet that might be exactly what the Penguins need.

And, let’s face it. Schultz has been a fantastic reclamation project for the Penguins, but he’s most useful when he’s placed in nurturing situations. During four seasons with the Penguins, Schultz has started an average of 55.7-percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, according to Hockey Reference. If he’s asked to shoulder a tougher defensive burden – as he did early this season, albeit in a small sample size – will his game fall apart?

  • Pensburgh and others point out an interesting plug-in option: Ethan Prow.

The undrafted 26-year-old has never played an NHL game, yet he’s tied for second place among AHL defensemen with 37 points this season. Offense isn’t everything, but it’s a positive sign that maybe he can help, and it wouldn’t hurt for the speed-and-skill-oriented Penguins to add another potential weapon.

Shaky market

When you look at TSN’s trade bait list, Craig Custance’s Top 20 Trade Board (sub. required), and other compilations of trade targets, you’ll see a lot of fascinating names, from Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky to more grounded considerations, like Wayne Simmonds.

Things are a lot thinner when you’re looking for defensemen, though.

Normally, I’d personally recommend going after Dougie Hamilton, a defenseman who is likely to exceed his perception. Dougie’s not a perfect option for the Penguins for simple money reasons, though: his (actually decent value) $5.75 million cap hit runs through 2020-21. Hamilton also plays for the Hurricanes, who likely wouldn’t be thrilled about the prospect of enriching a team ahead of them in the East bubble. Similar problems crop up with, say, Trevor Daley.

Granted, there are interesting options here and there. Alec Martinez is a little cheaper than Hamilton ($4M through 2020-21), and the left-hander’s shown he can play on his off-side.

Maybe most importantly, the Kings are eyeing the future, so they might be willing to retain some of Martinez’s salary, and one Penguins issue might be something they’d work with better than others …

Sunk costs

The Penguins have already given up a ton of futures in landing the likes of Nick Bjugstad, and previously, Derick Brassard.

As you can see from Cap Friendly’s chart, the Penguins lack:

  • A second, third, or sixth-rounder in 2019. They have Buffalo’s fourth-rounder and Vegas’ seventh-rounder, with Buffalo’s pick currently slated to be a little better, while Vegas’ is likely to be worse than Pittsburgh’s would-be seventh-rounder. The point is, there aren’t a ton of 2019 picks remaining.
  • They don’t have their 2020 second-round pick.

The Penguins, then, would need to part with first-round picks in bigger trades, or a would-be seller would need to accept a third-rounder or worse in 2020, or wait until 2021 to get a second-round pick. (Maybe the Kings would be willing to take a 2021 second-rounder for Martinez, possibly as part of a larger package?)

Not just eyeing this year

Ultimately, Pittsburgh might just look at the landscape and determine that they don’t need to take a big shot in 2018-19, instead allowing things to play out.

After all, much of the Penguins’ planning has been getting “extended” rentals. Bjugstad is signed through 2020-21, as is Tanner Pearson. Jared McCann is cost controlled through 2019-20.

Much of the context points to sticking with this current setup, or at least not making another big splash.

Who knows when the window will close?

There’s also a danger in assuming that Sidney Crosby (31), Evgeni Malkin (32), Phil Kessel (31), and Kris Letang (31) can fight off Father Time enough to keep the Penguins in the contender mix in 2019-20. Sometimes the drop-off can be very, very steep; just ask those selling Los Angeles Kings.

Yes, the Penguins won their 2017 Stanley Cup with Letang injured, and that repeat run came with a defense that wasn’t world-beating even with Letang feeling spry. That doesn’t mean Pittsburgh can always clear those hurdles, so it’s fair to point out that defense is a clear need.

***

To reiterate, the widespread “eye test” matches the numbers: Maatta hasn’t been very good this season.

Still, things could get even worse for the Penguins defense with him sidelined, so it’s not shocking that some might call for more trade deadline spending.

All things considered, should the Penguins roll the dice by being spenders … or take different types of risks by sticking with what they have?

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: Penguins host Lightning on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tampa Bay, which last played on Jan. 19, comes out of the All- Star break with the best record in the NHL at 37-10-2. With 76 points, the Lightning occupy first place in the NHL, and are five points ahead of the Calgary Flames for most in the league entering Wednesday night’s action.

Tampa Bay has been in first place in the NHL since Nov. 29 – just more than two months – and are looking to capture the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history. They are currently on pace to win 62 games this season, which would tie NHL record (set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings – 62 wins).

The last team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and win the Stanley Cup was the Blackhawks in 2013, and before that was the Red Wings in 2008.

[WNH: Sidney Crosby’s Selke Trophy push]

On Monday, the Penguins lost at home to the New Jersey Devils, 6-3, its fourth loss in the last five games (all in regulation – 1-4-0 record since Jan. 12). Pittsburgh has allowed five-plus goals in all four of those losses. This recent stretch of struggles follows Pittsburgh’s hottest streak of the season, when they won 10 of 11 games from Dec. 19 – Jan. 11.

One thing the Penguins need to improve is on the power play. They are just 2-for-13 (15.4%) on the power play in their last four games, and have allowed three shorthanded goals in the last six games. In fact, Pittsburgh leads the NHL with 11 shorthanded goals allowed this season. Last year they were tied with Tampa Bay and San Jose for the fewest shorthanded goals allowed (3).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Lightning-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Ondrej PalatSteven StamkosYanni Gourde
Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliJ.T. Miller
Adam ErneCedric PaquetteMathieu Joseph

Victor HedmanDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Mikhail SergachevAnton Stralman

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

PENGUINS
Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyDominik Simon
Bryan RustEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Tanner PearsonMatt CullenPatric Hornqvist
Riley Sheahan – Teddy Blueger – Garrett Wilson

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Olli MaattaJuuso Riikola
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

MORE: Kendall Coyne Schofield to serve as NBC Sports analyst on Wednesday Night Hockey

Coyne will join the broadcast team of John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) for the call from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Wednesday night.

NHL Injury roundup: Updates on Byfuglien, Hall, Schultz and Karlsson

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Now we will take a quick look around the NHL at some of the significant injury situations and where they stand as the league comes out of the All-Star break this week. 

Byfuglien getting closer, but not expected to play this week

Dustin Byfuglien has not been in the Winnipeg Jets lineup since the end of December, and while he is expected to return to the ice this week for practice he is not expected to play in any of the team’s three games and did not accompany the team on its upcoming two-game road trip.

The Jets are in Philadelphia and Boston on Monday and Tuesday before returning home to play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.

Jets coach Paul Maurice was asked on Sunday if there is any possibility that Byfuglien could return for that Thursday game and seemed to downplay the chances of it.

“I’m gonna say no because I haven’t seen him skate yet,” said Maurice, via Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. “If he comes out and he’s flying around we’d consider it. I don’t expect him to be.”

Byfuglien is the Jets’ top defender and has 29 points (five goals, 24 assists) in 32 games this season while playing more than 24 minutes per night.

In his absence the Jets have still managed to go 7-3-0 over the past 10 games to remain tied with the Nashville Predators at the top of the Central Division. That number is even more impressive when you consider they have also been without forward Nikolaj Ehlers for eight of those games.

Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey have done a fantastic job stepping up on the blue line without him.

After the home game against Columbus on Thursday the next chance for him to get back in the lineup would be two nights later against the Anaheim Ducks.

Taylor Hall not progressing as quickly as Devils had hoped

The reigning league MVP has not played since Dec. 23 and is not progressing as quickly as the Devils had hoped in his recovery from a lower-body injury.

He did skate for the first time before practice on Sunday, but is not yet ready to return to the lineup and will not accompany the team on its trip to Pittsburgh for Monday’s game against the Penguins.

Even though Hall has only appeared in 33 games this season and has not played in more than a month, he is still the team’s second-leading scorer with 37 points, just one behind Kyle Palmieri.

Palmieri has played in 15 more games.

For the season Hall has 37 points in 33 games and is still the driving force behind everything the Devils do when he is in the lineup. He has arguably been just as good as he was a year ago when he nearly single-handedly carried the team to a surprising playoff spot. Injuries, however, have limited him and the Devils.

The Devils won the first three games of Hall’s absence but have fallen apart in the weeks since going just 3-7-0 in their past 10 games, with only two of those wins coming in regulation.

Justin Schultz is getting closer

While there is no official timetable for his return at this point, and even though he is not returned to full practice with the team, Pittsburgh Penguins defender Justin Schultz has been skating on his own and seems to be inching closer toward a return.

After practice on Sunday Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said that Schultz is “approaching” being able to join the team for practice and that he is more “week-to-week” than day-to-day.

Schultz has played in just four games this season after fracturing his leg back on October. He was originally expected to miss at least four months. That timeframe, assuming it is unchanged, would set him up for a return sometime around mid-February. Or in other words, about two weeks from today.

His return, whenever it happens, would be a significant one for the Penguins because he would help solidify their top-four on defense without having to make another trade (though, they still might). While their top-pairing is set with Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, and they seem willing to ride with a third-pairing of Marcus Pettersson and Jack Johnson, their second pairing has been a bit unsettled as they’ve rotated Jamie Oleksiak and Juuso Riikola alongside Olli Maatta. None of those combinations have been bad, but Schultz brings an element offensively that neither Oleksiak or Riikola (or Maata, for that matter) can.

He would also help what is an already dangerous power play unit.

Erik Karlsson gets another week off to prepare

After being shut down for the three games leading up to the NHL All-Star break, San Jose Sharks defender Erik Karlsson was at least healthy enough to play for the hometown fans in Sunday’s game.

Now he has another week to recover as the Sharks do not return to action until Friday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes. It is expected that Karlsson should be ready for action at that point.

Prior to the injury Karlsson had returned to his usual Norris Trophy form where he can dominate the pace of the game and score at a level that is unmatched by almost any other defender. He has recorded 28 points in his past 20 games, while also posting some of the best shot attempt and scoring chance numbers of any player in the league. He has been great, and everything the Sharks could have hoped for him to be when they added him to an already strong defense in an offseason trade with the Ottawa Senators. The Sharks struggled in the three games he missed, winning just one of them and giving up at least six goals in all three of them.

They were 8-2-0 in the 10 games prior to that stretch.

More: Sharks soak in love from fans during All-Star weekend

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.

 

WATCH LIVE: Penguins host Blackhawks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins are one of the hottest teams in the league, with wins in eight straight games. They defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 on Friday night in a 33-save shutout by Matt Murray. After struggling to start the year and missing time with an injury, Murray has now won seven in a row, matching the best stretch of his career.

Sidney Crosby is riding a six-game point streak (3G, 10A) and has 51 points (19G-32A) in 38 games this season, a 1.34 points per game clip. He hasn’t had a scoring rate that high in a full season since 2009-10 (1.35 ppg). He’ll skate in his 903rd career regular-season game as he closes in on Mario Lemieux’s franchise record (915 GP).

Kris Letang has also tallied a point in six straight games (3G, 6A) and is leading the team in time on ice per game during the winning streak (26:16).

Erik Gustafsson leads all Blackhawks defensemen with 23 points and eight goals, both of which are already career highs for the 26-year-old, who is in his third NHL season. Jeremy Colliton scratched Gustafsson on December 2, and since being benched, Gustafsson has responded with 12 points (4G, 8A) in 13 games.

Gustafsson has been on the top pair with Duncan Keith while Henri Jokiharju is at World Juniors. He has also been the primary point man on the power play unit.

“He’s got the world at his feet if he wants…we push him because we know he can do it,” said Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton. “At times, he does do it, as far as his gap and being aggressive to get pucks back, and being physical at times, and even better around his own net. He can do it. It’s not a question of ability. It’s a question of committing to it. So it’s an easy decision to try to hold him accountable, because he can give us so much.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Sunday, Jan. 6, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsDominik Kahun
Artem AnisimovDylan StromePatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfBrendan Perlini
Chris KunitzMarcus KrugerDrake Caggiula

Duncan Keith – Erik Gustafsson
Gustav ForslingBrent Seabrook
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Cam Ward

PENGUINS
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Dominik SimonEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist
Tanner PearsonDerick BrassardPhil Kessel
Riley SheahanMatt CullenZach Aston-Reese

Brian Dumoulin – Kris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson
Olli MaattaJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Casey DeSmith

MORE: Kris Letang is playing the best hockey of his career