Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik return to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins as members of the Washington Capitals. (USATSI)
Welcome to the NHL Daily Picks, where hockey writers Adam Gretz and Chris Peters make their picks for select games every day.
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 p.m. ET
The NHL returns from its three-day holiday break on Saturday with a 13-game schedule. One of the more intriguing matchups is in Pittsburgh where the Penguins will be hosting the Washington Capitals. Always a fun game given that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are all out on the same ice surface, but also on Saturday because Capitals defensemen — and former Penguins — Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen will be making their first return back to Pittsburgh since leaving over the summer in free agency. Orpik was a staple on Pittsburgh’s blue line for years, while Niskanen’s career took off as a member of the Penguins, leading him to a massive free agent contract over the summer. The Penguins are still dealing with a ton of injuries and the mumps and are extremely shorthanded, but it has not slowed them down. The Capitals, meanwhile, are playing some outstanding hockey right now and take a 7-1-2 mark in their past 10 games into Pittsburgh. Pick: Capitals 3, Penguins 2 (shootout)
New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET
At the time of this posting it’s not yet known who will be coaching the New Jersey Devils, but we do know who it won’t be — Pete DeBoer. DeBoer was fired by the Devils after three-and-a-half seasons on Friday and the team looks to get a fresh start out of the break on Saturday against their long-time rivals, the New York Rangers. After a slow start where they won just seven of their first 18 games, the Rangers are finally starting to put everything back together and are currently on an 11-3-0 run over their past 14 games. Rick Nash is still scoring goals at an incredible rate and they are trying to make a move up the Eastern Conference standings. Pick: Rangers 4, Devils 2
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET
The Sharks have made a huge move in the Western Conference over the past few weeks thanks to their recent 9-1-1 stretch that has not only saved their season, but also perhaps even coach Todd McLellan’s job. They are in Los Angeles on Saturday night for a pretty big showdown with the Kings in a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff series that saw the Kings overcome a 3-0 series deficit. Things haven’t been going as well for the Kings this season as they are still trying to regain their championship form, but a win in regulation on Saturday night would bring them even with the Sharks in the standings with 43 points. The Sharks might be playing too well right now for that to happen, though. Pick: Sharks 4, Kings 3
The rest of Saturday’s schedule
1. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks: Kane against the Colorado Avalanche defense just seems like a mismatch and a big night waiting to happen, especially the way Kane has been piling up points over the past couple of weeks. The Avalanche are one of the worst defensive teams in the league and Kane is averaging a point-per-game and has 10 points in his past seven games. He had three assists in his only other game against the Avalanche this season.
2. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: It’s a Shea Weber bobblehead night in Nashville, and it just so happens to be against the Philadelphia Flyers, the team that tried to sign Weber away from the Predators a couple of years ago with a massive 14-year, $110 million offer sheet in restricted free agency, so it would only be fitting if Weber had a huge game for the Predators.
3. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: Same theory applies to Patrick Kane going up against the Avalanche. Amazing talent going up against an amazingly bad defense. Tarasenko had one other game against the Stars defense this season and ended up with a four-point night, including a hat trick.
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