James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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The Buzzer: Nino storms, Price channels Hasek

Player of the Night: Nino Niederreiter, Minnesota Wild.

There were some strong contenders around the league. Quite a few players enjoyed impressive one-goal, two-assist nights: Ivan Provorov for the successful Flyers, Nino’s teammate Mikko Koivu (who was also bloodied), Taylor Hall, and Alex Radulov among them. Sebastian Aho‘s really close, too, with two goals and an assist.

Still, it’s worth noting that Niederreiter generated his hat trick about four minutes into the second period, and only logged 12 minutes of ice time in this game. It’s also the second time he’s generated a hat trick against the Sabres, as he also did so in November.

With all the headlines about a “bomb cyclone” getting weather on the brain, it only makes sense for “El Nino” to gust through the Sabres’ defense.

Highlights of the Night:

Carey Price pulled out a Dominik Hasek/Tim Thomas-style barrel roll trick here:

Actually, speaking of Aho, let’s give him the highlight of the night for this sweet goal. Teuvo Teravainen also scored a pretty one as the Hurricanes were too much for the Penguins to handle.

Blooper of the Night: Ouch, Frederik Andersen. Ouch.

(This was also a tough break.)

Beard pull of the Night: Nazem Kadri on Joe Thornton. If you somehow missed it, check here.

Factoids:

Auston Matthews, American hero.

In case you’re wondering, the Canadiens’ struggles aren’t really on Carey Price.

The Golden Knights’ run came to an end. More on that here.

Scores

Maple Leafs 3, Sharks 2 (SO)
Flyers 6, Islanders 4
Hurricanes 4, Penguins 0
Canadiens 2, Lightning 1 (SO)
Blues 2, Golden Knights 1
Wild 6, Sabres 2
Stars 4, Devils 3
Avalanche 2, Blue Jackets 0
Flames 4, Kings 3
Oilers 2, Ducks 1 (SO)
Coyotes 3, Predators 2 (OT)
Panthers – Bruins, postponed

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.

Blues stop Golden Knights’ winning streak at eight games

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Perhaps we should call the St. Louis Blues “The Coolers.”

Some unlikely stories are spilling over from 2017 into 2018, and the Vegas Golden Knights have been doing their part; they extended their winning streak to eight games with their first contest of 2018, beating the Nashville Predators 3-0 on Tuesday.

They weren’t that far off from making it nine, but the Blues ended up prevailing on Thursday, squeaking out a 2-1 outcome to end the fun. Perhaps fittingly, even the Blues admitted that Paul Stastny‘s eventual game-winner was a bit of a fluke.

After examining the makeup of the Golden Knights’ eight-game winning streak, it’s interesting that this game followed some of the same patterns.

For one thing, Vegas continues to enjoy stupendous goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury was strong in this one, stopping 37 out of 39 shots, but Carter Hutton‘s hot streak continues, as he made 32 out of 33 saves. Even if that Stastny goal wasn’t pretty, “The Flower” and Vegas’ other goalies continue to let it ride.

During the Golden Knights’ winning streak, the power play was a surprisingly small piece of the puzzle, as they failed to score on the man advantage in six of those eight contests. (A lot of times a team can ride superlative special teams play for stretches.) In Thursday’s case, Vegas only received one opportunity on the power play, and failed to convert.

The Golden Knights need to shake this loss off quickly, too, as they’ll turn around and face the Blackhawks in Chicago on Friday.

Really, the team’s schedule may ultimately be the real William H. Macy here. While they’ll be rewarded with a lot of home-cooking in mid-February, the next month could be rough for the upstarts:

Fri, Jan 5 @ Chicago
Sun, Jan 7 vs NY Rangers
Sat, Jan 13 vs Edmonton
Tue, Jan 16 @ Nashville
Thu, Jan 18 @ Tampa Bay
Fri, Jan 19 @ Florida
Sun, Jan 21 @ Carolina
Tue, Jan 23 vs Columbus
Thu, Jan 25 vs NY Islanders
Tue, Jan 30 @ Calgary
Thu, Feb 1 @ Winnipeg
Fri, Feb 2 @ Minnesota
Sun, Feb 4 @ Washington
Tue, Feb 6 @ Pittsburgh
Thu, Feb 8 @ San Jose

That’s four home versus 11 road games coming up, with three back-to-back sets when you consider the one closing up tomorrow in Chicago. It’s not fair to say that the Golden Knights are weak on the road, considering their respectable 10-8-1 away record, but they’ve obviously been brilliant at making the most of their home-ice advantage, sporting a ridiculous-even-for-it-being-Vegas 17-2-1 record at home.

Most hockey fans are likely enjoying the ride when it comes to the Golden Knights.

That said, there are others who are “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Those Grinches might get that wish – at least to an extent – during the next month.

If the Golden Knights continue to buck the odds, it will be that much tougher to deny that they’re special, and it’s already increasingly difficult to do so. Even with the occasional setback such as a close loss to St. Louis.

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.

Canada crushes Czech Republic on way to World Junior Championship final

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Canada will get its chance to avenge last year’s second-place finish at the world juniors, but they won’t face the U.S. in doing so.

With Sweden knocking off the United States 4-2 in Thursday’s other semifinal matchup, Canada punched its own ticket to the 2018 World Junior Championship gold-medal game by crushing the Czech Republic 7-2.

Such a gold-medal game should bring fans of international hockey back a few years; Canada edged Sweden in the final round of the world juniors in 2008 and 2009. Sweden’s last gold-medal win came in 2012, while Canada’s most recent top finish was in 2015.

While lopsided games aren’t necessarily foreign to international play, this tournament continues to hammer home the thought that, for the most part, this event has been dominated by a select few powerhouse nations: Canada, Sweden, Russia, and the U.S., with Finland recently joining those ranks.

Slovakia is the only other nation to earn a medal besides those five since 2006, grabbing a bronze in 2015. To some, this rant captures some of the feeling of “haves” versus “have-nots.”

The Czech Republic aims for its first medal since 2005 (a bronze) when it faces the U.S. in the bronze-medal game. They won’t just need to take on a powerhouse – albeit a struggling one, at least in this tournament – but they’ll also need to shake off a harsh beating from Canada.

In a 7-2 game, it’s not surprising to see some standout performances. Drake Batherson bathed in the open ice, generating a hat trick. It was quite the night for the Ottawa Senators prospect (121st overall in 2017):

You could argue that Filip Zadina enjoyed a solid night in scoring both of the Czech Republic’s goals, but that’s likely little solace in such a blowout.

Canada will face Sweden for the gold in Buffalo on Friday.

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.

Couturier fights Bailey, Flyers add to Islanders’ frustrations

Nazem Kadri vs. Joe Thornton (winner: the fans, loser: Thornton’s beard) wasn’t the only unexpected fight from Thursday. Sean Couturier and Josh Bailey are rising stars for their respective teams, but tonight, tempers rose too high after a hit on Anders Lee, so the two prominent players dropped the gloves.

Maybe part of the tension comes from the stakes, and the frustrations for the Isles, even if the hit really made it happen?

Either way, each team needed this, so the Flyers have to be happy to beat their division foes in regulation by a score of 6-4.

Tensions boiled over a bit later in the game, too.

Both teams really wanted this. The Flyers were coming off a frustrating loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and with this home-heavy stretch in action, a strong push could go a long way in legitimizing their playoff hopes. On the other hand, Islanders coach Doug Weight worried about his team’s “frailty” and acknowledged that the next span is huge for this team, so losing a fourth straight game really rains on the Belmont Park honeymoon.

Such a slump leaves more than a few Islanders fans feeling pretty glum.

Tonight’s results adds confusion to the logjam that is the Metropolitan Division, as positioning looks to be up for grabs. With that in mind, every regulation loss has to hurt much more than even a well-placed haymaker.

Then again, maybe it’s all about shaking off those body blows, as the Islanders and Penguins turn around for another important game on Friday.

Hey, at least someone has to win that one, right? (Eyes weather forecast.)

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.

Did Ristolainen deserve to be ejected for bloodying Koivu?

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The Minnesota Wild are making life pretty miserable for the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, but some Sabres fans might be as irritated by a penalty call as they are by the scoreboard (which currently reads 5-0 in favor of Minny).

Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was given a five-minute interference major and game misconduct for a hit on Minnesota Wild veteran Mikko Koivu. You can watch video of that hit in the clip above this post’s headline.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety automatically looks at situations like these, but should anything come of it? Some wonder if the call was excessive to begin with.

The hit did leave Koivu bloodied:

Koivu didn’t miss the entire contest, however, scoring a goal (and counting?). Nino Niederreiter continues to victimize the Sabres, generating a hat trick against Buffalo for the second time in his career.

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.