WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks host Penguins on Wednesday Night Hockey

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

This matchup features two teams that have combined to win 6 of the last 10 Stanley Cups, but are both currently outside of playoff position. The Penguins are in the mix though – they enter Wednesday night ninth in the Eastern Conference, and have a chance to move into a top-3 Metropolitan Division spot tonight. Chicago is last in the NHL with 23 points.

After losing 6-3 in Winnipeg on Tuesday, the Blackhawks enter tonight having lost eight straight in regulation. That stands in contrast to their current eight-game winning streak against the Penguins. The last Pittsburgh win over Chicago came on March 30, 2014.

This is the second time this season that the Blackhawks have lost eight in a row, and Tuesday’s loss means they’ve won only three times in their last 22 games (3-16-3). Once again, the team was doomed by a slow start, getting out-shot 14-0 to start the game and falling behind 3-0 after the 1st period. Chicago did eventually cut the deficit to 4-3, but Winnipeg added 2 more goals in the 3rd to seal it.

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

From Oct. 30 to Nov. 19, the Penguins went 1-7-2 and were in last place in the East. But since then, they’ve gone 6-2-2 (including 3-0-1 in their past four) to vault up the standings.

Their latest win (2-1 shootout win over the Islanders on Monday) came with some drama, as Derick Brassard – who was moved up to Sidney Crosby’s line to ignite a struggling offense in the 3rd period – tied the game off an assist from Jake Guentzel. Guentzel later scored the decisive tally in the shootout on his first career shootout attempt.

“I think it was good for Brass,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “He’s such a gifted player. He’s playing a different role on this team than he has on all the other teams he’s played on. I’m trying to find more ways to keep him involvedand maximize what he brings to this team because I think he’s a unique player.”

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Wednesday, December 12th, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Penguins-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Derick Brassard – Sidney Crosby – Jake Guentzel
Tanner PearsonEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Zach Aston-ReeseRiley SheahanBryan Rust
Derek GrantMatt CullenJean-Sebastien Dea

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Olli MaattaJamie Oleksiak
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson

Starting goalie: Casey DeSmith

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsDominik Kahun
Dylan Sikura – David KampfBrendan Perlini
Alex DeBrincatDylan StromePatrick Kane
John HaydenMarcus KrugerAndreas Martinsen

Duncan KeithHenri Jokiharju
Brandon ManningBrent Seabrook
Connor Murphy – Carl Dahlstrom

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Penguins get all-too-rare win in Crosby’s return

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November has been a ruthlessly brutal month for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but for one night, all felt mostly well.

Of course, the most important element was that the Penguins got a win. By edging the Dallas Stars 5-1 on Wednesday, the Penguins ended a four-game losing streak, and earned just their second win in 11 games (2-7-2).

It was about more than merely winning on Wednesday.

Sidney Crosby suiting back up was almost guaranteed to be a comfort for Pittsburgh, like Thanksgiving’s looming belly full of tryptophan. The extra gravy came in Crosby playing so well, though.

His first goal back in the lineup was quite impressive, while he finished the game with three points.

Crosby also did some great work to set the table for what was eventually a Patric Hornqvist goal:

Naturally, the Penguins’ issues don’t really revolve around their big names in Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang.

Instead, those stars haven’t been able to hoist up an increasingly soggy low-end of talent, as the likes of Matt Cullen, Riley Sheahan, and others simply haven’t been good enough.

With that in mind, it’s a promising sign that Tanner Pearson is showing early signs of being another stroke of buy-low trade brilliance for Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. After failing to score a point in his first two games with the Penguins, Pearson scored a goal to give him points in consecutive games (two goals, one assist overall). That’s a hot streak relative to what had been a shockingly abysmal season with the Kings (zero goals, one assist in 17 games).

The Penguins coughed up a 4-1 lead to fall to the Buffalo Sabres in their last game, yet they at least eked out an overtime point there, so they’ve generated some standings points after free-falling for much of the past month. Considering their struggles so far, they’ll take it.

Still, Pittsburgh has a long way to go, and you could probably argue the same for the Dallas Stars. Dallas only mustered 19 shots on goal against a Penguins defense that leaves a lot to be desired, and only managed 17 SOG as they lost to the Rangers on Monday.

[PHT Q&A with Stars coach Jim Montgomery.]

So, the Penguins beat a team that is talented-yet-struggling much like they are. And there remains a lot of work (and winning) to do to make sure they can earn a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

You can only do so much in one game, though, and the Penguins showed promise on Wednesday.

***

One other thing to watch: will Brett Ritchie be suspended for this hit on Jusso Riikola?

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.

Penguins’ Matt Cullen fined $1,000 by NHL for dangerous trip

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NEW YORK (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cullen has been fined $1,000 by the NHL for a dangerous trip of Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Miller.

The infraction came during the first period of Thursday night’s game, a 4-3 victory by Tampa Bay. Cullen was assessed a minor penalty for tripping.

In announcing the fine, the league said Friday the money will go the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Lightning’s Brayden Point scores three power play goals in 91 seconds

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PITTSBURGH — One of the weirdest sequences of the season took place in Pittsburgh on Thursday night when Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point needed just 91 seconds of game-time to score three consecutive power play goals in their 4-3 win over the Penguins.

How exactly did that happen?

After dominating the first 19 minutes of the game and building a two-goal lead (with a pair of power play goals of their own), the Penguins melted down at the end of the first period by taking three consecutive penalties in a span of 20 seconds.

First, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin were called for tripping and slashing on the same play to give the Lightning a full two-minute, five-on-three advantage.

Just 20 seconds in to that power play Matt Cullen took a tripping penalty of his own to put three Penguins in the penalty box. Because the Penguins were already down two players on the ice his penalty would not begin until one of his teammates penalties expired (or was wiped out by a goal).

Just 10 seconds after Cullen was sent to the box, Point scored his first goal of the game (and 10th of the season) when he took advantage of a clear lane to the net and wired a shot just under the crossbar to get Tampa Bay on the board with 2.7 seconds to play in the period.

At this point Cullen’s penalty began, keeping the Lightning on an extended two-man advantage.

Just 41 seconds, into the second period Point tied the game with his second goal of the night by one-timing a Steven Stamkos pass behind Penguins goalie Matt Murray.

They made it look easy.

He credited this goal to all of the attention that Stamkos and his shot get on the power play.

“Not a set play, but it’s just guys worry about his shot so much and that’s such a heads up play by him to find me on the back post,” said Point. “I don’t think it’s a set play. It’s just a really creative, smart play by him.”

At this point Cullen’s penalty was the only one still on the board, and it took Point just 47 seconds to give the Lightning the lead with his 12th goal of the season when he blasted a shot into the net from the slot.

Three goals in 91 seconds is the sixth fastest hat trick in NHL history and the fastest since Derek King of the New York Islanders scored three goals in 78 seconds (also against the Penguins) in 1991.

Point was very understated about the whole thing after the game.

“They told me after the game,” Point said when asked if he was aware of where it stood in NHL history. “That’s pretty cool. Obviously just a couple 5-on-3 situations. You’re going to get put out in those spots and guys found me so, but just pretty cool.”

When asked later if he has ever had a night like this at any level of hockey, he again deflected credit to his teammates and the situation.

“No, that’s a first for me,” he said. “But like I said, guys made good plays and I was able to score.”

It was more impressive than he let on, based on nothing more than the fact that almost no one in league history has done anything like it.

The other players in the top-five for fastest hat tricks:

  • Bill Mosienko with three goals in 21 seconds for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1952
  • Jean Beliveau with three goals in 44 seconds for the Montreal Canadiens in 1956
  • Jack Darragh with three goals in 60 seconds for the Ottawa Senators in 1919
  • King with three goals in 78 seconds for the Islanders in 1991
  • Harry Oliver with three goals 85 seconds for Boston Bruins in 1927

Beliveau scored his three goals in 44 seconds on the same power play as players served the entire penalty in those days whether or not a power play goal was scored.

This is also the fastest hat trick in Tampa Bay Lightning history, breaking the record that was originally held by Martin St. Louis (three goals in 6:17).

“It’s just great to see because he’s such a hard worker and plays the game the right way,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said regarding Point’s night. “You like to see those guys get rewarded and he was.”

Point, still only 22 years old, is quickly developing into one of the Lightning’s best players and a core piece for a Stanley Cup contender. His three goals on Thursday give him a team-leading 22 points.

He is coming off of a 32-goal, 66-point performance a year ago and is on track to exceed all of those numbers this season.

 

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.

 

Penguins are a mess after another ugly loss to Devils

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The Pittsburgh Penguins seem to be the cure for whatever is ailing the New Jersey Devils these days.

After starting the season with a four-game winning streak, the Devils have won just three of the 12 games that followed while being outscored by 20 goals (52-32). They have been, for lack of a better word, bad.

Unless they happen to be playing the Penguins as two of those three wins have not only come against their divisional rival — including Tuesday’s 4-2 decision in New Jersey — but they have also outscored them by a 9-3 margin.

That is not a good look for the Penguins. Also not a good look for the Penguins: The fact they are now just 1-5-1 in their past seven games and are showing a lot of the same potentially fatal flaws that held them back at times a year ago, specifically when it comes to the abysmal play of their third-and fourth-lines.

Some numbers to ponder: After Tuesday’s game it has now been nine games since the Penguins received an even-strength goal from their third-or fourth-line. Meaning, a line that has not been centered by Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. The last such goal came in a 9-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Oct. 25 when Matt Cullen scored his first, and only, goal of the season.

During the stretch that has followed, the team has scored only 18 total goals, with only 14 of them coming at even-strength. One of Crosby or Malkin has been on the ice for all 14 of those even-strength goals, and at least one of them has contributed (scoring or assisting) to 11 of them.

It is not just the lack of goals, either. Their third-and fourth-lines are getting crushed in every aspect of the game, whether it’s actual goals (outscored 8-0), shot attempts (less than 44 percent) or scoring chances (also less than 44 percent).

On Tuesday, Crosby had a hand in both goals recording the primary assist on both of them, including an incredible cross-ice pass to Phil Kessel on the power play, and a controversial goal that saw Crosby plow through the crease and skate into Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid, leaving a rebound right on the doorstep for Jake Guentzel to pounce on.

The Devils challenged the goal for goalie interference but the on-ice call was upheld.

General manager Jim Rutherford addressed the depth issues a week ago when he ripped into his team’s slow start and commented on how they are not getting contributions from their depth players.

[Related: Obviously unhappy GM rips Penguins’ slow start]

For a refresher:

“It’s almost like the guys come to the games and say, ‘Let’s just let the top guys do it.’ Let’s let Sid, Geno, Phil and Letang carry us. We’ll just get through the game and move on to the next game. Forget about the work ethic it takes or forget about the role they play. But when those top players aren’t getting it done, whether they’re shut down or they’re just not having a good game, that’s when we need those other guys to come in and contribute and help win games. We’re not getting it.”

That was probably the most on-point and accurate thing he said.

Over the past couple of weeks coach Mike Sullivan has tried a lot of different things to jumpstart individual players in an effort to get them going.

Bryan Rust, fresh off signing a long-term contract extension over the summer, has been off to a terribly slow start and been bumped up to the top line alongside Crosby and Dominik Simon.

Carl Hagelin, who has just three points in 16 games, has remained in the top-six alongside Malkin despite his lack of offense.

With Rust and Hagelin getting those big-minute roles, it means somebody else gets bumped down the line, and on Tuesday it was Guentzel and Phil Kessel (the two most productive wingers on the team) opening the night on the third line being centered by Riley Sheahan … who has two points in 16 games, none in his past seven, and has not scored a goal since the second game of the season.

None of it has worked.

What the Penguins really need right now is for Derick Brassard to get healthy again, and once he does, they need to stick him on the third-line (which is the role they acquired him for; not to play alongside Crosby on the top line as he had been doing prior to his injury) and hope that he starts to produce as they expected him to.

They also need to hope that somebody out of the Rust, Hagelin, Sheahan trio (which accounts for nearly $10 million in salary cap space) starts to contribute something.

Or, as the GM hinted at, maybe even a trade to bring in somebody that might help add some offense.

Whatever the solution might be, they better find it fast because they are only two points out of the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference.

Yeah, it is early (and yeah, they were in a nearly identical spot at this exact same time a year ago). But it is not so early that there should not be some concern.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

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.