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Five things to watch in Rivalry Night doubleheader

by Brian Compton

The Pittsburgh Penguins enter the second half of the season trying keep pace in what has become a heated race in the Metropolitan Division. The Washington Capitals entered the All-Star break with points in eight of 10 games and are one of four teams vying for a division title.

Pittsburgh (27-12-8) has earned at least one point in eight of its past 10 games, including a 5-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. Washington (24-14-9), which lost its fourth straight game (0-3-1), 4-3 at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, fell five points behind the second-place Penguins in the Metropolitan.

The Capitals will try to get back on track when they host the Penguins in the first game of a Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader at Verizon Center (NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN1, 8 p.m. ET).

On the West Coast, the Chicago Blackhawks will face the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center (NBCSN, SN, SN1, 10:30 p.m. ET). Chicago (30-15-2) won back-to-back games entering the break and is tied for second place in the Central Division. The Kings (20-15-12) have won twice in their past 10 and entered the second half on the outside of the Stanley Cup Playoff race.

Here are five things to watch in the two Wednesday Night Rivalry games:

1. Will Sid play?

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was forced to miss the All-Star Game festivities over the weekend and the game against Winnipeg on Tuesday because of a lower-body injury, but there's a good chance he'll be in the lineup against the Capitals.

Crosby tried to play through the injury for two weeks and had an injection last Friday. He participated in the morning skate on Tuesday. Crosby has 51 points (15 goals, 36 assists) in 43 games.

"It's just one of those things where it's day-to-day and I'll see how I feel tomorrow," Crosby said Tuesday.

2. Letang, Hornqvist return, but no Malkin

The Penguins have been hit hard by the injury bug virtually all season, including their top players. They received some good news Tuesday, though; defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) and forward Patric Hornqvist (lower body) were in the lineup for Pittsburgh's game against the Jets. Hornqvist scored his 14th goal and Letang had five assists in the victory.

"My health is 100 percent," Hornqvist said Tuesday, according to the Penguins website. "I just have to get back into shape and we'll see what happens in the next few days. It's all about games though. That's how you get back in shape."

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin remains out of the lineup because of a lower-body injury. He will not play against Washington.

3. Ovechkin aims to get back on scoresheet

It's a rare occurrence these days when Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin fails to get a point, but that was the case Tuesday. He entered the game against Columbus with five goals in his previous three games and trails New York Rangers forward Rick Nash and Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin with 27 goals this season.

Alex Ovechkin
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 27 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 43
SOG: 225 | +/-: 11
Ovechkin has scored 10 goals in January. He attempted eight shots in the first period on Tuesday.

4. Richards waived

Center Mike Richards played a key role in helping Los Angeles win the Stanley Cup twice in the past three seasons. But he was underachieving this season and cleared waivers Tuesday. He was assigned to Manchester of the American Hockey League.

Richards had five goals and 10 assists in 47 games. He had played 224 consecutive games dating back to Dec. 22, 2011, the longest active streak on the Kings. Richards has five full seasons remaining on a 12-year contract extension that he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in Dec. 2007. His annual average salary-cap charge is $5.75 million.

"As players, we understand that it's a business. But at the same time, in here we're family so it's really hard to see [Richards] go on waivers," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "I think we all understand it. We're not winning. … It's also what management feels is best for the team. As players, we deal in a lot of things. It's just not very often you see a player of [Richards'] stature go on waivers."

5. Blackhawks begin tough six-game trip

Five players on the Chicago Blackhawks (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews) enjoyed the All-Star Game festivities over the weekend, but the fun is over. The Blackhawks begin a grueling six-game road trip that has them visiting the Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg and the St. Louis Blues.

Chicago won't play another game at United Center until Feb. 9, when it opens an eight-game homestand against the Arizona Coyotes.

"It's not going to be easy," Toews said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "We knew that going into this weekend. It's almost better that we don't have a long break. I think it's great to have a few days, but for the most part you don't want to get too far removed from being in season, and tease yourself with relaxing for a few too many days. I think the guys will come back and use this break the right way. We'll be excited to play [this] week."


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