Byfuglien: a deep dish of frustration

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byfug.jpgEvery now and then, Pro Hockey Talk will ask for insight from some of the best team bloggers out there. For this feature, we asked a simple question: “Who is your team’s most frustrating player?” Just for fun, Brandon and I also provided our “guesses” as to who that player might be.

First, here are our guesses for Chicago.

BrandonCristobal Huet – If I even need to explain this one, then you don’t follow hockey. At all.

James: Cristobal Huet – I had the urge to play the devil’s advocate and pick some lesser scapegoat like big goober Dustin Byfuglien or smaller goober Kris Versteeg, but really, Chicago’s biggest problem is their pricey goalie.

To share the Chicago perspective, we asked the guys at HockeeNight to put in their two cents. Your humble author is expected to appear on their podcast tomorrow night.

Chris Troha: Dustin Byfuglien

I bet you thought it’d be Cristobal Huet (especially after the dump he took in net on Thursday). Nope. Huet’s been terrible in the second half, and completely lost confidence, but he’s a goalie, and they’re nuts. Standard expectations don’t work with goaltenders.

No, I’ll go with the guy who has the most untapped potential: Dustin Byfuglien. At 6’4″ and 257 lbs, Big Buff burst on the scene during the 2007-08 season, scoring 19 goals in 67 games, during which time he changed positions from defense to wing. Then general manager Dale Tallon rewarded Byfuglien with a contract extension worth $3 million per year through the 2010-2011 season. Like Tallon, I think most Hawks fans had visions of Buff skating on the left wing of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane; using his size to punish defensemen and set screens, and his above average hands and shot to score garbage goals off rebounds.

Instead what we got is a guy who still can’t bring a consistent effort. It’s one thing to be bad at hockey, but Byfuglien is just good enough to drive you nuts. He’ll have 5-7 game stretches in the season where he looks like world beater. Laying guys out, fighting, scoring goals, just enough to make you think he’s finally flipped the switch, and then…nothing. He disappears for two weeks at a time. For whatever reason, Dustin can’t seem to stay focused unless the coaching staff is moving him from the 1st line to the 3rd line then down to the 4th and maybe up to the 2nd if he plays well there, and then finally making him a healthy scratch. A guy like this who can’t keep himself motivated with a big contract is bound to frustrate.

Anyway, if you’ve been watching the Hawks, you’ll know they’ve had some injuries on defense lately, and this has got Buff moved back to his original position where he’s played pretty well so far. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before he gets comfortable.

Jets basically have two top lines, and that’s scary

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At times, this season feels like The Year of the Mega-Lines.

Even so, the modern NHL is cruel to offense, and many of us are waiting for the other shoe to drop, as much as we want the fun to continue. What if Steven StamkosNikita Kucherov is driven down by injuries? Can Brayden Schenn remain a point-per-game player with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz into the spring?

A lot has been going right for the Winnipeg Jets lately, as they improved to 14-5-3 after beating the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Friday. It was their sixth win in seven games; they’ve gone 11-2-3 since beginning 2017-18 with a sputtering 3-3-0 mark.

Still, there are some of those red flags that make you wonder if the party might stop soon. They ranked second in the NHL in even-strength PDO (via Natural Stat Trick) coming into today’s action, one of the go-to signs that a Cinderella story may end. Their possession numbers have left much to be desired. Connor Hellebuyck might be playing over his head.

All or at least most of those considerations are worth some concern.

Even so, Friday managed to shine a spotlight on a scary notion: the Jets might possess the equivalent of two “top lines,” or at least an electric top duo and a young, rising one that isn’t far behind.

Around the start of the season, the Jets raised some eyebrows – mine, anyway – by handing Nikolaj Ehlers a seven-year extension that carries a $6 million cap hit. It’s not like the 21-year-old lacked signs of brilliance; instead, it was just a little startling to see them be so proactive with a big contract and term rather than seeing if his 25-goal, 64-point breakthrough from 2016-17 was “for real.”

It’s incredibly early, but Ehlers is making it look like a wise decision, if not an outright steal. There are even moments when you might catch yourself wondering, “Is he just about as good as Patrik Laine?”

Perhaps the Ducks thought that way today, as Ehlers dropped two goals and an assist on them.

Snickers turn to nods of begrudging approval when you hear talk about “shot quality” with a team that might just have an excess of high-end shooters. After all, you can only cheat to cut off shooters so much if it means giving Ehlers too much time and space:

Laine played somewhere between coy and possum when discussing how hockey was “hard” for him during a relative scoring slump, as he’s climbing to right where the Jets would want him to be. Since November began, the 19-year-old has only failed to score a point in a single game and averages a point-per-night. (Overall, he has 17 points in 22 contests.)

This outburst gives Ehlers 10 goals and 17 points, and perhaps the Jets’ risky investment in Bryan Little may look better if he can merely set the table for these two. Perhaps it’s fair to say that the Ehlers – Laine benefit from the occasional wake-up call, though.

And, again, the scary part is that Ehlers – Laine isn’t even the first pairing you’d underline on the whiteboard.

Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler both sit at 25 points even after being blanked on Friday, and it seems like they might have found their third amigo in Kyle Connor, another young forward coming up the ranks in Winnipeg.

It has to be disheartening for opponents to consider that they might shut down Scheifele – Wheeler and still get blitzed out of the building by Laine and Ehlers, yet that’s the predicament you face, particularly since the Jets boast the sort of defensemen who might force you to “stay honest” in the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba.

Does this all mean that Winnipeg can just pencil in its first playoff games, nay, series wins already? No, they have questions, all the way up to if Paul Maurice can make it all work.

That said, days like these make you wonder if the talent will do all the work for him.

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.

Bruins, Khudobin top Penguins for fourth straight win

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Don’t look now but here come the Boston Bruins.

Thanks to their 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday afternoon the Bruins were able to continue their climb up the Eastern Conference standings with their fourth consecutive win, all of them coming with backup goaltender Anton Khubodin in net.

Friday’s win ended up being a little more difficult than it looked after 20 minutes.

The Bruins stormed out of the gates and dominated the first period, scoring a pair of goals and limiting the Penguins to just four shots on goal. They held a 3-1 lead in the second period until the Penguins were able to strike back with a pair of goals, including a really flukey game-tying goal from Sidney Crosby that needed to go through two different replay reviews, to tie the game.

But early in the third period David Pastrnak was able to sneak behind the Penguins’ defense on a breakaway and score what would prove to be the game-winning goal.

With that win the Bruins are for the time being in the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

The Penguins, meanwhile, continue to look like a lost hockey team. Their loss on Friday was their ninth in their past 13 games and they have still just won just 11 of their first 24 games this season.

Friday’s game was also the Penguins’ third consecutive loss.

Defense continues to be an issue, as does depth scoring and 5-on-5 offense.

Things will not get any easier for the Penguins on Saturday when they have to return home for a game against the NHL’s best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It will be the third time the Penguins have played the Lightning this season in the second half of a back-to-back situation. They lost the first two games by a combined score of 12-5.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Boston Bruins

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If you are looking for a break from your Black Friday shopping or your relatives in town for the holidays we have something that should work nicely: Some afternoon hockey as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins enter the game having won three in a row, all with backup goalie Anton Khudobin in net. He has allowed just four goals in those three games.

The Penguins, meanwhile, are still trying to find their stride this season and have won just four of their past 12 games. They are still trying to figure out ways to replace some of the depth they lost this summer.

Opening faceoff is at 1 p.m. ET.

You can catch all of the action on NBC or on our NBC Live Stream.

Click Here For The Live Stream

Preview: NHL On NBC: Bruins’ Khudobin looks for fourth straight win in matinee matchup against Pens.

New York Rangers reveal 2018 Winter Classic jerseys (Photos)

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The Buffalo Sabres already revealed their look for the 2018 Winter Classic earlier this week, and on Friday the New York Rangers gave us our first look at what their uniforms will look like for the Jan. 1 game to be played at Citi Field in New York.

[Buffalo Sabres reveal 2018 Winter Classic jersey (Photos)]

Have a look, both in the picture at the top showing the front of the uniforms, as well as the picture just below showing the back.

Thoughts on the Rangers’ look?

The 2018 Winter Classic is scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET faceoff at Citi Field in New York, the home of the New York Mets.

This year’s game will be the 10th anniversary of the annual New Years Day game.

Related: Buffalo Sabres reveal Winter Classic Jerseys