James O'Brien

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

DeBrincat’s hat trick boosts Blackhawks over Red Wings

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With the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings at risk of both missing the playoffs for the same time for the first time since 1968, it’s tough not to ruminate on the past.

The Blackhawks have to be delighted, on the other hand, to note that potential future pieces played a big role in a convincing 5-1 win on Thursday.

After collecting an empty-netter in the closing moments, Alex DeBrincat collected a hat trick, likely inspiring a lot of “DeBrinhat” jokes. Forty-nine games into his career, the 20-year-old already owns two hat tricks and now has 17 goals and 32 points (DeBrincat also had an assist tonight). That’s not Calder Trophy material in a year like this, but it’s evidence that Chicago was justified in being excited when they selected him in the second round (39th overall) back in 2016.

DeBrincat wasn’t the only young player to show promise.

Anthony Duclair‘s start in Chicago has been quite, as he’s hovering around the 13 minutes per game that drew some complaints in Arizona. After only generating an assist in his first five games with the Blackhawks, Duclair scored a goal and two assists in just 4:46 of ice time in the first period. Maybe this outburst will earn a few more reps from Coach Q?

Even with this win, the Blackhawks are in a tough spot. They’re likely going to need other wild card hopefuls to stumble while really going on a tear to make the playoffs. We’ve seen glimpses of the once-dominant team many have grown to expect, but Chicago hasn’t been able to put it together often enough to keep up with a competitive Central Division and Western Conference.

Perhaps the Blackhawks need to roll the dice by depending more upon youngsters like DeBrincat and Duclair, as Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane might not be able to carry them as much as they have in the past? A diversified attack might be what they need with Corey Crawford‘s health still in question.

Those are thoughts that linger over the Blackhawks heading into the All-Star break, but at least they didn’t carry a losing streak into it, too. Instead, they snapped that four-game skid in a big way, maybe providing some optimism for what will need to be a blistering push.

You know, assuming that those days aren’t already in the past.

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.

Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin make history

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Sidney Crosby (30) and Alex Ovechkin (32) aren’t old, but they’re old enough to really start piling up impressive milestones.

Each superstar made some history on Thursday with assists. In the case of Ovechkin, he collected the 500th assist on his career, although Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s helper was the real “wow” moment of Nicklas Backstrom‘s goal. (See that in the video above this post’s headline.)

Ovechkin joins some select company, as he’s closing in on 600 goals. This is the 970th regular-season game of his career.

Crosby’s first assist on Thursday gave him his 1,080th point with the Penguins, placing him ahead of Jaromir Jagr at second all-time for franchise scoring.

It’s a pretty sweet one, too, with Crosby using his peripheral vision to set the table for Dominik Simon:

As of this writing, Crosby has three assists in this game. This is just the 833rd game of Crosby’s career, so yes, this is a remarkable run; Jagr scored his 1,080 points in just 806 games. Both players = ridiculous.

In case you’re wondering, Evgeni Malkin has a ways to go to pass Jagr as well. Geno came into Thursday with 881 points in 752 games, adding two goals and an assist against an overmatched Wild team. The Penguins ended up winning 6-3.

Ovechkin’s Capitals look like they’re in line for a postseason berth, while the Penguins are looking increasingly likely to grind their way into the playoffs, too. That’s likely most important to both players, but maybe they can take a moment to enjoy some of these outstanding individual accomplishments.

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.

More evidence Red Wings should lean on Mrazek, not Howard

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We’re getting to the point in the 2017-18 season when wishful thinking goes from annoying but acceptable to potentially harmful for a team’s future.

The Detroit Red Wings are long beyond the point where they can credibly claim to be contenders, with even optimistic prognostications like that of Sports Club Stats giving them a five percent chance to make the playoffs. Even if they did, it’s tough to imagine them making an impact in the postseason; at some point a franchise with one playoff series win since 2012-13 needs to read the writing on the wall.

Even if GM Ken Holland & Co. are going to be stubborn about a need to rebuild until the last minute, there are certain decisions that should be no-brainers, and showcasing Petr Mrazek is so painfully the obvious thing to do with the goalie’s contract set to expire.

The Chicago Blackhawks provided the latest testimony to that argument, as they chased Jimmy Howard with three goals on just nine shots.

Howard came into tonight’s game on a three-game losing streak, allowing three goals once and four goals on the other two occasions. About the best argument you can make for trotting out Howard is that he might give the Red Wings a better chance to tank if his recent struggles continue.

This isn’t a knock on Howard overall, as he’s enjoyed a pleasant-enough rejuvenation overall.

But still, at this point the Red Wings should be putting Mrazek on display to give potential suitors more exposure to what the netminder is capable of in 2018. Let’s not forget that Mrazek has shown flashes of brilliance, especially in 2015-16, when he produced a strong .921 save percentage in 54 games.

Mrazek’s enjoyed some strong flourishes lately, including a two-game shutout streak (27 saves against the Blackhawks on Jan. 14; 37 stops vs. the Devils on Jan. 22). For all we know, maximizing his production in the next month or so could greatly improve a takeaway in a trade. Considering his $4 million cap hit, the Red Wings might need to be accomodating to make something happen here.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon SaadNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatJonathan ToewsAnthony Duclair

Tomas JurcoDavid KampfVinnie Hinostroza

Patrick SharpArtem AnisimovRyan Hartman

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle

Erik GustafssonBrent Seabrook

Michal KempnyConnor Murphy

Startling goalie: Anton Forsberg

[Preview: ‘Hawks take four-game losing streak on the road to Detroit]

Detroit Red Wings

Andreas AthanasiouDylan LarkinTyler Bertuzzi

Anthony ManthaHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Tomas TatarFrans NielsenLuke Glendening

Martin FrkDominic TurgeonLuke Witkowski

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Jonathan EricssonXavier Ouellet

Startling goalie: Jimmy Howard

Brad Marchand gets stiff five-game suspension

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The Boston Bruins will be without Charlie McAvoy for a couple of weeks, and now must try to keep their hot streak going without Brad Marchand.

In the case of Marchand, it was by most accounts, an unforced error. The NHL didn’t buy the defense that Marchand was defending himself from New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson, instead handing the repeat offender a significant five-game suspension.

The NHL’s official explanation video notes that it “was not a defensive maneuver” and acknowledges that Marchand’s past as a repeat offender (five suspensions before this one, also three fines) played a role in the decision. The clip doesn’t mention Johansson’s possible concussion, however.

The narrative had been that Marchand was cleaning up his ways during his ascent among the NHL’s elite. He told The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur in November that he’s trying to avoid suspensions.

“I’m trying to get away from the s— a little bit, and I have, just because they crack down on it so easily now and I can’t afford to get suspended. … There are very few guys on any team that even get into anything. These kids that come up now, they’re all skill players, they don’t get into it. There’s no fighters anymore.”

Somewhat awkwardly, this five-game suspension might not stop Marchand from attending the 2018 All-Star Game this weekend.

It’s been a controversial stretch for the Department of Player Safety. On one hand, many argue that they went too harsh with Andrew Cogliano, ending his ironman streak with a two-game suspension. Bitterness boiled over on that even more when Dustin Brown avoided a suspension for a nasty cross-check on Justin Schultz.

If those decisions were too hot and too cold, was this five-game suspension just right? If not, was it too little or even too much, considering his history?

Either way, NBCSN’s Liam McHugh is correct in saying that it was more than a slap on the wrist. Bob McKenzie provides more insight on the decision:

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.