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WATCH LIVE: Oilers visit Sharks as Hitchcock returns behind the bench

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Ken Hitchcock makes his return to coaching Tuesday night hours after the Oilers announced that Todd McLellan had been relieved of his duties. There’s a lot to be fixed in Edmonton.

• After starting the year 8-4-1, the Oilers have lost six of their last six games, with all six losses coming in regulation.

• Edmonton is allowing 3.30 goals per game this season (t-24th in NHL)

• When Connor McDavid scores 2 or more points, Edmonton is 6-1-1

• When McDavid scores 1 or fewer points, Edmonton is 3-9-0

It’s a top heavy team, as evidenced by the 28 goals and 70 points recorded by McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The other 22 skaters? 29 goals and 81 points.

“It seems like when we get down we get down too much,” said defenseman Adam Larsson. “The lows seem to be really low right now. If we can just get that out of our game and keep it an even keel we should be good…it’s Game 20 and we’re right in the hunt. I don’t sense anything like the team we had last year. This is a hungry group.”

[WATCH LIVE – 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks
Where: SAP Center
When: Tuesday, November 20th, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Oilers-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

OILERS
Drake Caggiula – Connor McDavid – Leon Draisaitl
Ryan Spooner – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Alex Chiasson
Milan LucicCooper MarodyTy Rattie
Jujhar KhairaKyle BrodziakZack Kassian

Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Darnell NurseKris Russell
Kevin GravelMatthew Benning

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

[Can Ken Hitchcock save the Oilers?]

SHARKS
Evander KaneJoe PavelskiJoonas Donskoi
Tomas HertlLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonKevin Labanc
Barclay GoodrowAntti SuomelaMelker Karlsson

Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Randy Hahn (play-by-play) and Bret Hedican (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Oilers-Sharks from SAP Center in San Jose.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Crosby, Chara, Subban headline brutal NHL injuries list

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If it wasn’t already clear that the grind of a grueling 82-game season was starting to set in, this list of injuries should drive the point home. Even by such standards, plenty of NHL teams are reeling – publicly or not – in mid-November.

This continues a tough stretch of injury news, as John Klingberg ranked among the biggest names in the last batch of unsettling updates.

  • Sidney Crosby is the biggest name, and the latest news from the Pittsburgh Penguins presents a mixed bag.

Whenever you hear the words “Sidney Crosby” and “upper-body injury,” the reflex is to worry that his career-threatening concussion issues have surfaced again. The good news is that, at least according to the Penguins, Crosby is not dealing with a concussion. While it’s worth noting that teams can be less-than-forthcoming when it comes to injury updates, we’ll have to take this as heartening for now.

(It helps their argument that it’s not exactly clear when the injury happened.)

The less promising news is that Mike Sullivan believes that Crosby will miss about a week, with number 87 carrying a day-to-day designation. Take a look at the remainder of the Penguins’ November schedule for some context:

Thu, Nov. 15 vs. Tampa Bay
Sat, Nov. 17 @ Ottawa
Mon, Nov. 19 vs. Buffalo
Wed, Nov. 21 vs. Dallas
Fri, Nov. 23 @ Boston
Sat, Nov. 24 vs. Columbus
Tue, Nov. 27 @ Winnipeg
Wed, Nov. 28 @ Colorado

So, if Sullivan is correct, Crosby would miss somewhere between 3-4 games. If things progress more slowly than anticipated, it could sting quite a bit more, considering the Penguins’ two back-to-back sets on Nov. 23-24 and Nov. 27-28.

The Penguins were already struggling, and no Crosby takes a little steam out of the acquisition of Tanner Pearson, but it sounds like things could have been a lot worse.

The earliest indication from Joe Smith of The Athletic (sub required) is that Vasilevskiy could miss three-to-four weeks, although that could change. Considering how crucial mobility is for goalies – who can’t really be “hidden” in the lineup, compared to skaters who might get by at far less than 100 percent – this is a troubling injury.

On the bright side, the Lightning have at least built a playoff buffer for themselves, as their East-leading 25 points gives them a six-point cushion against the three teams outside on the bubble (Capitals, Hurricanes, and Flyers) right now. As Smith notes, the Bolts also don’t deal with the sort of back-to-back sets that could really exacerbate this problem, at least not until early-December (when they face road games against the Devils and Red Wings on Dec. 3-4).

They don’t have much of a lead in the daunting Atlantic Division, however, as the Maple Leafs (who won’t feel a lot of sympathy with Auston Matthews out) only behind by one point in the same 18 games played.

While Eddie Pasquale has been recalled to serve as a backup, Louis Domingue is set to be the workhorse until Vasilevskiy returns, unless the Lightning decide that they need to bring in outside help via a trade. This continues a remarkable journey for Domingue, who was pondering quitting the sport altogether not so long ago.

That’s a cool story, but it could be more maudlin if he struggles. The Penguins and Lightning play on Thursday night in a game that’s suddenly depleted of significant star power.

(Luckily, both teams are still pretty loaded, even if they’re more vulnerable to slumps now.)

The Bruins are expected to provide more information as they take a longer look at the 41-year-old’s knee, whether that examination happens on Friday or possibly later. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty notes that the tree-sized defenseman has dealt with knee issues before, so here’s hoping that the fitness freak avoids the worst.

If nothing else, the B’s have been able to (mostly) weather the storm of defensemen injuries so far, as both Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy have been limited to seven games played apiece so far in 2018-19. Granted, McAvoy is still out and Brandon Carlo is also banged up, so it remains to be seen if Boston can fight off all of these issues.

  • The Nashville Predators are off to a hot start to the season, which is comforting to think about as they grapple with some troubling injuries.

Not long after being activated from IR, scrappy scoring machine Viktor Arvidsson is back on it, as the team announced that he’s expected to miss six-to-eight weeks (ouch) with a broken thumb (double ouch). Winning the Central Division won’t be easy with that first-line spark plug missing such a big chunk of the season.

It’s not clear how long they might be without P.K. Subban. He’s currently considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Nashville is rightly praised for amassing impressive depth during this salary cap era. That depth looks to be tested, particularly if Subban’s issue forces him out for more than a brief lull.

Moments after this post went up, Nashville announced that Subban is on IR, so that’s not promising.

  • The Washington Capitals are finally being bit by the injury bug after sporting freakish levels of repellant under the Barry Trotz regime. It’s unclear, however, how hard they’ve been bitten. It may not be clearer until Friday, if not later.

Still, it’s wise to keep an eye on Braden Holtby, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov going forward.

  • As a reminder, the Anaheim Ducks announced that surgery is scheduled for Cam Fowler on Friday, as he’s dealing with some nasty-sounding facial injuries. This could be quite the painful pill to swallow, considering how awful Anaheim’s looking on defense as of late. The specific timetable is unclear, but that doesn’t sound good.
  • Rotoworld’s injury listings could be handy for those who want even more updates, such as Tomas Hertl being day-to-day for the San Jose Sharks. That’s especially true for those who are deep in the woods from a fantasy perspective.
  • There hasn’t been a ton of great news, although it sounds like James van Riemsdyk is finally slated to return for the Philadelphia Flyers against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.

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.

We may soon see Sharks at their best

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With a 6-3-2 record, the San Jose Sharks have been fine (good enough to lead a shaky Pacific Division), yet they haven’t been lighting the scoreboard on fire like many expected after landing Erik Karlsson. It’s easy to blurt out “small sample size,” yet with 11 games played, you could “build a file” on San Jose.

There are a few reasons to be excited about the near future, starting with Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers.

Take a moment to dig a little deeper on the Sharkies.

The return

So far in 2018-19, Joe Thornton has been limited to two games played and about 32 minutes of ice time, collecting an assist before swelling in his knee sidelined him once again.

At age 39 and with 1,495 regular-season games (plus 160 playoff contests) under his belt – and, most worrisome, recent surgical procedures for both knees – it’s fair to wonder what Thornton can contribute. “Jumbo Joe” can bend a game to his will thanks to his smarts, strength, and size, but there’s a cutoff point where Thornton could be slowed too much.

In other words, there are some reasons to curb enthusiasm for Thornton’s return, which is happening tonight – along with the re-bearding process:

We’ve discussed the potential hiccups, but the Sharks could be awfully interesting if Thornton’s close to his full form.

It will be interesting, for one thing, to see how the Sharks’ lines shake out. As of the morning skate, Thornton looks to get his familiar running mate Joe Pavelski back, while Timo Meier could conceivably be the latest young gun to get the Jumbo Boost. Logan Couture centers Tomas Hertl and Kevin Labanc, while Evander Kane gets pushed down to the third line.

The dream for the Sharks is that they could send wave after wave of attackers against overwhelmed opponents. Considering the Rangers’ flaws, Tuesday stands as an opportunity to build early confidence.

From a challenging schedule to robust opportunities

The Sharks’ 6-3-2 record goes from a shoulder shrug to a thumb up when you consider the hurdles they’ve mostly cleared. Most obviously, they’ve played eight games on the road versus just three at home.

As The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz details (sub required), the challenges go deeper for this California crew thanks to travel and time zone considerations:

Out of the 11 games the Sharks have played so far this season, they’ve changed time zones before five of them, or nearly half. That includes all three games of their recent road trip, when they went to Nashville (CST), Carolina (EST) and Anaheim (PST). Their previous road trip saw the Sharks go from Los Angeles to New York, where they played four games against the Metropolitan Division before returning for a brief two-game homestand.

Less than four weeks into the season, the Sharks have already crisscrossed the nation twice.

The Sharks are now set to enjoy quite the pay-off.

Tuesday’s game against the Rangers begins a four-game homestand, and the situation is even cushier once you zoom out a bit, as they’ll play 10 of their next 12 games in San Jose.

Tue, Oct 30: vs. Rangers
Thu, Nov 1: vs. Columbus
Sat, Nov 3: vs. Philadelphia
Tue, Nov 6: vs. Minnesota
Thu, Nov 8: at Dallas
Fri, Nov 9: at St. Louis
Sun, Nov 11: vs. Calgary
Tue, Nov 13: vs. Nashville
Thu, Nov 15: vs. Toronto
Sat, Nov 17: vs. St. Louis
Tue, Nov 20: vs. Edmonton
Fri, Nov 23: vs. Vancouver

This next month-ish stretch provides San Jose with chances to pull away from the Pacific pack, and there aren’t a ton of back-to-backs to leave Thornton and other veterans weary. (They might even be smart to allow Thornton to rest on one of those back-to-back road games.)

It could also open the door for Erik Karlsson to get more settled in …

Mixed reviews on Karlsson

Earlier this season, PHT took a look at Karlsson’s up-and-down start. With seven assists but still zero goals in his first 11 games, it seems like Karlsson remains effective, yet also a work in progress.

The debate surrounding Karlsson’s been quite fascinating, really.

On one hand, there are deeper looks that paint a less pleasant picture of the star defenseman as he acclimates himself to a new team:

Meanwhile, Sharks blog Fear the Fin provided high praise for the pairing of Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, which you can read here.

Interestingly, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer seems to have placed his defensive pairings in a blender, partnering Brent Burns with Joakim Ryan, Karlsson with Brenden Dillon, and Vlasic with Justin Braun.

This is ultimately the time of year when it makes extra sense to tinker. Either way, this could really be the stretch where Karlsson gels with his new team, as he’ll be able to avoid some of that extra travel, while DeBoer gets the last line change most nights.

***

Things aren’t perfect for the Sharks, yet they currently lead the Pacific (both San Jose and Vancouver have 14 points, but San Jose has two games in hand).

For all we know, it may take more time to see this team’s best, but there’s a strong chance that November may offer a glimpse of the Sharks’ ceiling.

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: Winning streaks on the line as Predators host Sharks

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Pekka Rinne is on injured reserved, opening the door for Juuse Saros to take the reins as the starting goalie for the Predators. When Nashville hosts the Sharks on Tuesday, it’ll be the first time that the 23-year-old netminder will have started consecutive games in his young NHL career.

Saros has 46 starts in his career, and working with Rinne for the past couple of seasons has provided him plenty of confidence to handle an extended workload when called up.

“Juuse is very calm,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette via the Tennessean. “He’s got a great guy to sit next to him in the room in Pekka. Approaches life the same way. They lead with their work ethic.”

As the Predators look to extend their five-game winning streak, they’ll face a Sharks team have won two in a row and scored nine goals over their last two games. Logan Couture has scored four of those nine goals and is one of the bevy of weapons that head coach Peter DeBoer can deploy every night.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

WHAT: San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators
WHERE: Bridgestone Arena
WHEN: Tuesday, October 23rd, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVESTREAM: You can watch the Sharks-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Evander KaneJoe PavelskiKevin Labanc
Tomas Hertl – Logan Couture – Timo Meier
Marcus SorensenAntti SuomelaJoonas Donskoi
Barclay GoodrowRourke ChartierMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicErik Karlsson
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

PREDATORS
Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson
Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Calle JarnkrokNick BoninoRyan Hartman
Zac RinaldoColton SissonsFrederick Gaudreau

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Dan HamhuisYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Juuse Saros

MORE: Rusev and Lana turn Predators stars into WWE superstars

What’s the ceiling for Auston Matthews this season?

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Five games into the 2018-19 NHL season and already the Toronto Maple Leafs look like everything they were advertised to be.

Specifically, they have been an offensive juggernaut that few — if any — teams in the NHL will be able to match up with in terms of offensive firepower when they are clicking on all cylinders.

After Thursday’s 5-3 win in Detroit they have already scored 25 goals on the season and have scored at least five in each of their past three games. And they are doing this without one of their top talents in restricted free agent William Nylander, who remains unsigned.

Leading the way has been the team’s newly created two-headed monster at center where Auston Matthews, the franchise cornerstone, and John Tavares, the summer’s big free agent score, have spent the first week of the league making a mockery out of opposing defenses.

As of Friday, the pair have combined to score 15 of the Maple Leafs’ 25 goals, while at least one of them has factored into the scoring (either scoring the goal or assisting on it) on 21 of the 25.

While Tavares has been great, Matthews is the one that is getting the most attention because he literally can not stop scoring goals. With two more on Thursday he is now up to nine goals on the season and has not only found the back of the net in every game, he has scored two goals in four of them.

This has done a couple of things.

First, it has sent what is already an over-the-top hyperbolic Toronto media into overdrive as Matthews’ name is now being thrown into the discussion with Connor McDavid as the league’s best player, and there is the inevitable talk about just how many goals he can score this season. If he continues on this pace he would score approximately 147 goals!

Second — and this makes a lot of the current talk and hype pretty understandable — it is put him in some pretty rare company.

Nine goals in five games is obviously a pretty big deal because, let’s face it, that’s a lot of damn goals no matter when it happens. But when you do it at the start of the season it really gets a lot of attention.

How great is this start? Since the start of the 1987-88 season Matthews is just the fourth different player to score at least nine goals in his team’s first five games, joining a list that includes Alex Ovechkin, Mario Lemieux, and, quite surprisingly, his current Toronto teammate … Patrick Marleau.

Over that same stretch only one other player has scored at least eight goals in his team’s first five games (you will never guess the name) and only 12 others have scored at least seven.

Let’s take a look at those players and what they ended up finishing each season with.

Look at … Mark Parrish?! … with eight goals to open the 2001-02 season.

A few things to note: Marleau’s season was the lockout shortened 2012-13 year, and if you were to project his final numbers out over 82 games it would have put him on a 28-goal pace. John LeClair (2002-03) and Tomas Hertl (2013-14) also had injury shortened seasons that impacted their numbers. Hertl’s start in 2013-14 was the same year he broke Martin Biron and the New York Rangers with that between-the-legs goal as part of a four-goal game.

But what stands out most about this list is that all of these players inevitably slowed down dramatically, with the possible exceptions of Lemieux and Mogilny, as they were the only two on this list that ended up topping the 50-goal mark after their seasons.

Even Ovechkin — for my money the greatest and most dominant goal-scorer in NHL history — failed to hit the 50-goal mark last season after he opened the year with nine goals in his first five games.

The reason for this is simple: All of these stretches are incredible hot streaks where great players go on an unstoppable tear where everything goes in. Those stretches do not last long. Matthews, for example, has literally scored on half of his shots so far this season. You don’t need me to tell you why that is going to cool off.

Over the first two years of his career Matthews was a 15.8 percent shooter, which is still an obscenely high number for the NHL, and there is reason to believe he can sustain that number because he is that good. Let’s just say, hypothetically he spends the remainder of the season scoring on 15.8 of the shots he takes, as he has for his career. And let’s say he averages the same 3.25 shots per game that he has averaged for his career. Those numbers come out to another 39-40 goals, which would put him right in that 50-goal range. And if he manages to do that everyone in Toronto should be ecstatic because 50-goals is a nearly unreachable plateau in the NHL these days.

But that is probably his ceiling.

He is not a 50-in-50 player. He is probably not going to score 60 or more.

I do not point this out to rain on the parade or be some soul-less analytical person that screams UNSUSTAINABLE just because a player is on a hot streak.

Of course streaks like this are unsustainable. But that does not make them any less fun or impressive to watch. And if anything, these “unsustainable” bursts from players like Matthews are the exact thing that makes them great. I’ve beaten this drum so many times over the years that I even hate myself for saying it again, but great goal-scorers don’t score goals on a consistent basis. They score them in bunches like this. They go on streaks like this where everything goes in the net, and then it gets followed up by an eight-or nine-game stretch where they can’t buy a goal.

There is nothing wrong with that. Do not let anyone try to tell you there is something wrong with that.

Too many players (almost always top-tier players) get criticized for being too streaky or inconsistent. On the contrary, streakiness like this is good and “consistency,” at least as it relates to production, is vastly overrated. If you have a player that produces the same thing on a consistent it means they are not capable of reaching this type of level for any stretch of games.

And it is this type of stretch that makes players like Matthews (or Ovechkin, or Sidney Crosby, or Steven Stamkos, or any other top-tier superstar) so valuable.

When they go on a stretch like this it is not only incredibly fun and jaw-dropping to watch, it also carries a team to wins.

So, no. Auston Matthews is not going to keep scoring goals like this.

He does have a ceiling this season that isn’t the billion goal pace he is currently on.

That does not mean you should not enjoy it and appreciate it while it is happening. Because we all know once he hits that inevitable goal slump (and god forbid that slump happens in a playoff series) the same Toronto media that is going wild right now is going to rip him apart like a pack of ravenous wolves.

That won’t be as fun.

So let’s enjoy Auston Matthews now and watch to see what else he is capable of 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.