James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Neal keeps Golden Knights perfect; Why hot start might continue


You’d think, in facing two vastly improved Western Conference teams on the road in back-to-back nights, that the Vegas Golden Knights would have stopped being cute or scrappy and start losing.


On Friday, the Golden Knights went into a third period down one goal, only to fight back with James Neal scoring the game-winner, propelling Vegas to a 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars.

On Saturday, the Golden Knights (cough) went into the third period down one goal. They ended up forcing overtime against the Arizona Coyotes, only for James Neal to score another game-winner, this time in OT.

Check out Neal’s latest game-winner in the video above this post’s headline. Meanwhile, find his first (and the Golden Knights franchise’s first) game-winner from Friday below:

Neal, 30, currently owns three of the Golden Knights’ four goals. He scored both of their game-winners. Meanwhile, his former team in the Nashville Predators also have three goals in two games, and zero wins.

It seemed like Neal once again got a raw deal in joining a seemingly bad team, and doing so in a contract year as a power forward approaching a next contract that can vary wildly based on how 2017-18 goes.

At this rate, Golden Knights fans won’t let him fold and leave the table.

Before you dismiss this start

Look, the Golden Knights needed narrow wins and Neal’s heroics. They also needed great work from a keyed-in Marc-Andre Fleury.

Still, if you’ve seen PHT’s October schedule analysis posts, you’ll know that the table is set for the Golden Knights to possibly start strong. If home-ice advantage is any kind of edge, maybe the good times will continue, even if this winning streak would be unlikely to go too long?

Check out this upcoming stretch, all home games:

Tue, Oct 10 vs Arizona
Fri, Oct 13 vs Detroit
Sun, Oct 15 vs Boston
Tue, Oct 17 vs Buffalo
Sat, Oct 21 vs St. Louis
Tue, Oct 24 vs Chicago
Fri, Oct 27 vs Colorado

Nice. With two narrow wins, it’s silly to get carried away from a bigger-picture standpoint.

On the other hand, being a fan is often about getting carried away or milking those moments where you can have fun before the cruel hammer of reality falls.

For budding Golden Knights fans, this magical run might just go a little bit longer than many would expect.

Dumb, fun, once-in-a-century: Leafs win wild one vs. Rangers


Toronto Maple Leafs fans probably should have known better.

Late in the first period, as the Maple Leafs built a 5-1 lead against the New York Rangers, the home crowd gave Henrik Lundqvist a “Bronx cheer” for one of his last saves of the period (and night).

You’ll encounter the phenomenon of a Bronx cheer when fans of a home team get on their goalie during a tough night – that couldn’t have helped a disgruntled Patrick Roy many moons ago in Montreal – but heckling the away netminder in that regard? Audacious.

It’s also probably a situation where fans take things for granted, and even largely starfallen Leafs fans might deserve some leeway: at that point, they followed up a 7-2 win with a 5-1 first period.

That crowd went from cocky and cackling to cold-quiet in the second period, however, as the Rangers managed a stunning comeback that locked the game at 5-5 heading into the third. All of a sudden, Frederik Andersen felt at least a portion of Lundqvist’s pain in a wild game.

Credit the Maple Leafs for shaking that off, and credit head coach Mike Babcock for being just open-minded enough, despite his hard-driving tendencies, to let this young team fight through the gaffes and letdowns.

Maybe it’s easier to find the lighter side of things when you’re winning 8-5 (as Toronto did on Saturday) rather than losing in such fashion.

“It’s kinda fun, eh? … But it’s dumb,” Babcock said, and really explained this contest, not to mention some of Saturday’s wildest games overall.

That high-octane offense is something Toronto hockey fans haven’t seen in 100 years. No, that’s pretty much literally the case.

Hey, dumb and fun is the sort of thing that can work in sports. The Boston Red Sox crushed their curse with “idiots.” Sometimes the scariest athletic opponents are the ones who aren’t afraid to fail, and don’t allow thoughts of failure to slow them down.

It sure beats slow, boring, and on the wrong side of the scoreboard, too.

Australia’s Nathan Walker joined Ovechkin in making history with Capitals


No doubt about it, Alex Ovechkin‘s hat trick (-plus) was the standout achievement of the Washington Capitals’ 6-1 drubbing of the Montreal Canadiens.

It wasn’t the only moment that made you really check the history books, and in this other case, it creates a new entry.

Nathan Walker, the first Australian born player to be drafted, played in his first NHL game. And in that first NHL game, he also managed his first goal. Watch the goal in the video above this headline.

Go ahead, let out a “Crikey.” His family probably won’t even mind.

If that wasn’t perfect and bizarre enough, consider that Australian Ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey(!) made sure to congratulate Walker.

As a reminder, Walker shares the night with Ovechkin. The all-world sniper enjoyed back-to-back games (actually, periods) with hat tricks and ended the night with seven goals in two games. (More about that here.)

It was a remarkable night for history being matched a century later – or for the first time – as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ scoring ways were also once in a generation-and-maybe-change.

Stanley Cup repeat, not revenge: Predators can’t solve Murray, Penguins


Pittsburgh Penguins fans were riffing on the “We want the Cup” chant on Saturday, teasing the Nashville Predators with “We got the Cup.”

Perhaps “Can’t beat Matt” or “Murray’s in your head” would cut even deeper?

Carrying over dominance from the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, Matt Murray blanked the Predators as the Penguins won 4-0 in that championship rematch on Saturday. Murray shut out the Predators in Game 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, too, so this marks three goose eggs in a row for Nashville vs. the quick-learning Pens netminder.

The Penguins have outscored the Predators 12-0 in these past three games. Woof.

Here’s an exact update on that shutout streak:

For better or worse, the Predators get a chance to score a goal against the Penguins – and possibly Murray, depending – when they meet again in Nashville on Nov. 11.

To little surprise, the Predators showed frustration as the game boiled down, prompting Ryan Reaves – who actually scored against Nashville – to drop the gloves more than once. (More on Reaves Sunday.)

(While Reaves drew praise from Mike Sullivan on Saturday night, people note that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin still received the sort of hard hits many would expect. Anyway, more on Reaves tomorrow.)

Ryan Johansen seems pretty chill about this loss, even as Nashville hasn’t generated a standings point in its first two games of 2017-18. Maybe it’s because he was sidelined during Murray’s first two shutouts against the Preds?

Well, what can you really say, right?

The not-so-good familiar part for the Penguins

As much as this was a great night for the Penguins, the “Groundhog Day” feel of history repeating itself had its negative aspects.

To be specific, the Penguins continue to deal with bad injury luck for their defensemen. It’s easy to think back as Kris Letang as the only loss during that last run, but others either missed time or were limited by ailments. Ian Cole was the latest to suffer a rough break, losing teeth thanks to a gruesome puck to the face:

The Penguins said he’s out indefinitely.

Lightning’s J.T. Brown raises fist during national anthem, first NHLer to protest


SUNRISE, Fla (AP) Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown raised his right fist during the playing of the national anthem before the team’s first road game of the season.

The 27-year-old Brown, who was scratched for Tampa Bay’s season-opening win against Florida, remained standing throughout the anthem Saturday night. Brown, one of approximately 30 black players in the NHL, used the same protest before a preseason game against the Panthers last month.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem in the preseason a year ago to make a statement about social inequality and police treatment of blacks in the United States. Since then, the protest has spread to other sports.

Brown is the son of former NFL running back Ted Brown, who played eight seasons for the Minnesota Vikings.