On the ice, it’s a light schedule, with the streaking Detroit Red Wings in Pittsburgh, Vancouver visiting its rival in Chicago and Washington on the road against the undermanned San Jose Sharks.
Here are three things you need to know for Wednesday night.
Versteeg returns vs. Canucks
The Chicago Blackhawks are getting an offensive boost early in their eight-game homestand in the form of Kris Versteeg, who returns to face Vancouver after missing 16 games with a fractured left hand. The left-winger scored the lone Chicago goal in a 4-1 loss to the Canucks on Nov. 23, and has four goals and 11 points in 16 games against Vancouver.
For the Canucks, forward Nick Bonino could draw back in the lineup after suffering a lower-body injury blocking a shot in Monday’s 5-3 loss to Minnesota. Vancouver, which holds the second wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference, has played win-loss the past three weeks and hasn’t won back-to-back games since Jan. 19. Defenceman Adam Clendening, who played four road games for the Blackhawks earlier this season before a Jan. 29 trade to Vancouver, suits up for his first game at Chicago’s United Center.
Special teams showdown
Detroit is playing some of its best hockey of the season as it prepares to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins’ dynamic duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. A three-game win streak and 9-1-0 stretch has the Red Wings threatening top spot in the East as they trail conference-leading Tampa Bay by three points and have four games in hand. Wednesday’s game pits Detroit’s top-ranked power play (25.6 per cent) against Pittsburgh’s third-ranked penalty kill.
The Penguins, three points back of the Red Wings, will be without defenceman Christian Ehrhoff (concussion symptoms) but could have winger Blake Comeau in the lineup for the first time since he broke his wrist on Dec. 22. Crosby is set to play his 600th game while goalie Marc-Andre Fleury carries a shutout streak of 131 minutes 40 seconds into the contest after back-to-back shutouts of Edmonton and Calgary.
Washington Capitals linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin will be itching to play the hometown Sharks knowing San Jose will be without top defencemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic (lower-body injury) and Justin Braun (broken hand). Backstrom, with 13 points in his past 11 games, is five assists shy of passing Ovechkin (410) for second place in franchise history. Ovechkin, meanwhile, scored twice and added an assist in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Sharks on Oct. 14. Washington is 13-9-5 on the road this season.
San Jose has dropped four of its last five games, including a 4-1 decision to Calgary on Monday, to fall into third place in the Pacific Division, two points ahead of Vancouver. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Evgeni Nabokov was expected to retire as a Shark after general manager Doug Wilson made a trade with Tampa Bay on Monday for the 39-year-old goalie. San Jose’s ninth-round draft pick in 1994, Nabokov holds nearly every franchise goaltending record, including games played (563), wins (154) and shutouts (50).