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WATCH LIVE: Blue Jackets visit Penguins on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Thursday night’s matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This game is the start of a home-and-home that will wrap up the season series between Columbus and Pittsburgh. The Penguins have won both meetings so far, including their game last week in Columbus. Overall, the Pens have won seven in a row in the regular season vs. the Blue Jackets.

This home-and-home series figures to have massive implications on the playoff race. Entering this game, just two points separate third in the Metro from being outside of the playoffs entirely.

Columbus picked up a much-needed two points on Tuesday with their 2-1 shootout win over New Jersey. The Jackets had been 1-3-0 since the trade deadline, so the win was a tangible measure of progress to keep them right in the playoff mix. However, the reaction in the locker room afterwards was hardly celebratory. The Jackets played very poorly, mustering only 18 shots on goal (a season-low) against a Devils team that had nearly half of its regular lineup out due to injury.

Pittsburgh also went past regulation on Tuesday, defeating Florida 3-2 in OT, thanks to Jake Guentzel’s second goal of the game. He now has 33 goals this season. Sidney Crosby had three points to surpass the 1,200-point threshold.

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

What: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Thursday, March 7, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blue Jackets-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUE JACKETS
Artemi PanarinPierre-Luc DuboisJosh Anderson
Nick FolignoMatt DucheneCam Atkinson
Ryan DzingelAlex WennbergOliver Bjorkstrand
Brandon DubinskyBoone JennerRiley Nash

Zach WerenskiSeth Jones
Markus NutivaaraDavid Savard
Scott HarringtonAdam McQuaid

Starting goalie: Joonas Korpisalo

PENGUINS
Jared McCann – Sidney Crosby – Jake Guentzel
Zach Aston-ReeseEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Dominik SimonNick BjugstadPatric Hornqvist
Teddy BluegerMatt CullenGarrett Wilson

Brian Dumoulin – Zach Trotman
Jack JohnsonJustin Schultz
Marcus PetterssonErik Gudbranson

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

John Forslund (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Pittsburgh. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Mike Johnson.

Player safety, offense key topics at NHL GMs meetings

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The annual NHL’s general managers meetings took place in Boca Raton, Florida this week and as has been the case in recent years player safety and increased offense were among the major talking points.

Perhaps the most noteworthy proposal is one that would penalize players that do not immediately leave the ice after they have lost their helmet during play.

Helmets have been mandatory in the NHL since the 1979-80 season (players already in the league at that time were grandfathered in, which is how Craig MacTavish, for example, played helmet-less into the 1990s) but there has never been a rule that has forced a player to exit the ice should they lose their helmet during play.

It is something that happens quite regularly in the NHL and is obviously a safety concern.

“I don’t see any reason why we’re waiting around for something to happen in this space,” said George Parros, head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, via NHL.com.

“God forbid something should happen. I think this rule would go on the list right away, so everybody was on board with that. We’ll figure out what that rule will look like, draft up some options and push it through the proper channels.”

Parros also added that the league has looked into making helmets mandatory during warmups. Currently, NHL players are allowed to take part in warmups without their helmets and in recent years we have seen a couple of notable injuries take place as a result.

Pittsburgh Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist has been hit in the head by pucks on two different occasions in recent years, while Taylor Hall, back during his Edmonton Oilers days, needed 30 stitches to repair an injury he suffered during a warmup collision.

One of the other proposals that will be up for debate centers around teams having the option of choosing which face-off circle they want to begin a power play on.

Instead of the current rule, which has the location determined by where the puck went out of play or where it was last touched, the general managers are proposing that teams should be allowed to choose which side the initial face-off takes place on. In theory, this would enable coaching staffs to set up plays and get players into their best possible position for a quick strike on the man-advantage. This would allow teams like the Washington Capitals or Tampa Bay Lightning to put the face-off in the right circle to open every power play in an effort to set up Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos for their one-timers right off the draw.

This is one of those rule changes that, from a big picture outlook, doesn’t seem like it will make much of a difference in league-wide goal-scoring rates or style of play, but could have a big impact in an isolated sampling at the end of a game or in overtime.

What might be an even bigger change is the recommendation that the face-off remain in the attacking zone when the puck is shot out of play by an attacking player. Under the current rule the ensuing face-off is moved outside of the offensive zone in such situations. Keeping it in the zone, whether it be on the power play or at even-strength, could make a big difference because it keeps the attacking time in what could be a prime scoring position instead of making them have to not only win possession of the puck, but also regain entry into the offensive zone.

One other idea that was talked about was to forbid teams from making a line change if their goalie covers the puck on a shot that originated from outside the blue line, while others proposed making a two-minute penalty for delay of game.

This is more of a pace-of-play issue would aim to cut down on unnecessary stoppages.

The only time now when teams are not allowed to make a line change is after they ice the puck.

Before any of these ideas can officially become rules they must first be agreed upon by the NHL and the NHLPA, and then approved by the board of governors at the end of June.

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 ready to enjoy Stadium Series, but focus is on two points

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

PHILADELPHIA — For a number of the Penguins, they can claim “outdoor game veteran” status. Twelve of them have played in at least one Winter Classic or Stadium Series game, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way with four experiences outside.

But Saturday’s Stadium Series meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers will be a business trip for the Penguins, as is most outdoor games for the road team. There are fewer family members around and not as big of a demand for tickets as it was two years ago when these teams played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. 

The Penguins’ can’t be too concerned with the pomp and circumstance that comes with being involved in an outdoor game. There are two big points on the line as they find themselves tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets on 71 points and relegated to the second Eastern Conference wild card spot due to a tiebreaker.

“We have to approach it the same way we approach every game right now,” said defenseman Kris Letang, who’s played in two outdoor games. “We have 21 games left. Every one of them are really important.”

“This team especially, they’ve had plenty of big games in their time,” said forward Nick Bjugstad, who will be an outdoor game first-timer on Saturday. “You can’t just really look at it as such a big spectacle. Obviously, enjoy the moment, enjoy being lucky enough to be able to play an outdoor game in front of all these people, but at the same time it’s just the same mentality of every game, and the same focus that you should approach. The adrenaline will be going pretty good with all these fans, especially in Philly. I’m sure they’ll be nice and rowdy for us. It’ll be pretty fun.”

After a 4-0 trouncing by the San Jose Sharks Thursday night at home, the Penguins are eager to get back out there and erase the memory of that defeat. The loss put them at 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and flirting with the notion of a playoff-less spring for the first time since the 2005-06 season, Crosby’s rookie year.

The Penguins are aware of their current situation in the standings and head coach Mike Sullivan sees it as an opportunity for his team to embrace. The players certainly understand every game is a chance to clean up the finer details, which could help them in the consistency department going forward.

“We just have to find ourselves. Last game was not our best and we all know it,” said Patric Hornqvist. “I think this is a great opportunity for us to actually have some fun and embrace this atmosphere. [If we] make sure we do the little things right we’re going to come out on the right side.”

MORE 2019 STADIUM SERIES:
Why Scott Gordon chose Elliott over Hart for Stadium Series start
Rain could be an issue for Penguins-Flyers Stadium Series game
Scott Hartnell Q&A

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (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 Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.

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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.

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

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.

Blue Jackets lose in especially painful fashion after Torts tirade

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John Tortorella probably won’t call Thursday a “no-show” performance from the Columbus Blue Jackets, but when it comes to the standings, they still have nothing to show for it.

[Torts’ tirade]

When you take a step back, just about everything is painful about Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, which extends the Blue Jackets’ losing streak to four games (all in regulation).

For one thing, you have the more literal pain.

During warm-ups, All-Star forward Cam Atkinson was struck with a wayward puck off of a crossbar, the kind of freak accident that might inspire someone to gripe about players warming up without helmets (looks at Patric Hornqvist), but Atkinson had his lid on. If there are hockey gods, perhaps they simply determined that Atkinson would not play against the Jets.

Those hockey gods must also have a sick sense of humor during another sequence. With the game tied 3-3, the Blue Jackets received a key power-play opportunity after Mark Scheifele put a puck over the glass and into the safety netting. Lucky break, right? Maybe, but an unlucky moment came when the play was whistled dead when Brandon Tanev was struck by a Zach Werenski shot.

As you may remember, the Blue Jackets suffered from a power-play goal scored by the Pittsburgh Penguins during one of Columbus’ ill-fated playoff runs, even though Werenski was injured by a shot in a similar way.

Do you think this gross image of Werenski’s face popped up in Tortorella’s mind as he raged about the play being called dead? It’s certainly possible.

*Gross hockey wounds warning*

That would probably have left Torts & Co. grumbling even if they won the game in overtime, or at least took a point out of this.

Instead, Kyle Connor scored what would be the game-winning goal with just 1:14 remaining in the third period, and the Blue Jackets were unable to respond.

So, losing in regulation, with such little time remaining, is one reason why there was also some serious figurative pain on Thursday.

It may also sting to see Columbus fall short, even as both of their trade targets/free agent conundrums Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky made some big plays.

Panarin was especially impressive, scoring his 20th goal of the season with authority, and also setting up Atkinson’s replacement Josh Anderson for a nice power-play tally. Panarin played almost 26 minutes (25:52) and generally reminded the hockey world why he’s such a big deal, as if he hadn’t already done so by inspiring free vodka for life.

Bobrovsky’s had a tougher time this season, yet he’s still had his moments, including making this save.

Panarin’s points, Bob’s stops, and Torts rants were not enough, at least not on Thursday.

The Blue Jackets now sit at 59 points in 50 games, three ahead of the Buffalo Sabres (also 50 GP) for the East’s second wild card. While it’s not extraordinarily difficult, their stretch heading into the trade deadline may be challenging enough to increase the strain on everyone involved:

Feb. 2: vs. St. Louis
Feb. 5: at Colorado
Feb. 7: at Arizona
Feb. 9: at Vegas
Feb. 12: vs. Washington
Feb. 14: vs. Islanders
Feb. 16: at Chicago
Feb. 18: vs. Tampa Bay
Feb. 19: at Montreal
Feb. 22: at Ottawa
Feb. 22: vs. San Jose

While there are a decent number of home games sprinkled in there, quite a few of them are against dangerous opponents (possibly all if the Blues continue to trend upward).

To Columbus’ credit, they’ve battled through a lot this season. Thursday was a microcosm of that, as they gave the Jets a good fight despite unexpectedly losing Atkinson. And the Blue Jackets deserve at least a mention that they nearly fought back from a significant deficit before losing to the Sabres in the very game that enraged Tortorella.

Then again, this is also the sort of talk that the Blue Jackets are fighting against. A franchise that’s never won a playoff series likely isn’t soothed by the word “close.”

Losses like these have to hurt that much more.

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.