James O'Brien

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

By luck or by design, Capitals have been remarkably healthy this season


Upon reflection, Alex Ovechkin griped about the Washington Capitals meeting the Pittsburgh Penguins – arguably a matchup of the East’s two best playoff teams – in the second round of the 2016 postseason. It felt unlucky to Ovechkin, and likely others.

The Capitals can’t complain about one big luck factor, however: health. They’ve been insanely sturdy in 2016-17, and to some extent during the Barry Trotz era.

NHL Man Games Lost is an essential resource for tracking such figures. With the 2017 NHL All-Star Break serving as a natural stopping point, this seems like a great opportunity to drop our jaws in awe at Washington’s astounding luck in this area:

To give you an idea of how unusual that is, the Penguins hit 18 alone with Kris Letang. The second-luckiest team total goes to the St. Louis Blues, who are at 69 man-games lost.

Remarkably, the Capitals ranked as one of the healthiest teams in 2015-16, too:

Maybe the Capitals feel like they can get more out of a player like Andre Burakovsky. And, sure, bounces go their opponents’ way in plenty of cases. Even so, this is a pretty unlikely run of luck.

It’s difficult to hatch many theories about why this might be happening. Maybe the Capitals follow the lead of their sturdy, constantly scoring captain Alex Ovechkin. He’s played 888 regular season to Sidney Crosby‘s 749 since their rookie seasons in 2005-06. Ovechkin’s never played fewer than 72 games in a non-lockout season, and usually plays at least 78.

Perhaps there’s something about Trotz’s system that leaves the Capitals less susceptible to big hits? Maybe not whining to refs as often is good for the health?

Whatever the case may be, it’s pretty remarkable stuff. If they can stay this healthy throughout 2016-17, they’ll be that much tougher to beat.

Mathieu Perreault says ‘dirty’ Corey Perry slash broke his finger


Winnipeg Jets forward Mathieu Perreault isn’t happy with the slash he received from Anaheim Ducks star Corey Perry, and not just because it resulted in a broken finger. Not just because he’ll probably lose the nail (gag) on that finger.

No, Perreault believes that the play was dirty, and didn’t exactly shoot down reporters’ comments about Perry’s “reputation” for going over the line.

Illegal Curve has the audio from Perreault’s discussion with the media from Monday, with the “dirty” talk beginning around the 50-second mark. He threw the word around multiple times in discussing the exchange, also noting that he was once teammates with Perry in Anaheim.

For what it’s worth, Perreault didn’t seem too irritated that the league didn’t take action about the slash, reasoning that it’s difficult to judge the impact of a slash in the moment (it didn’t even draw a penalty). That doesn’t mean Perreault is happy about it, mind you.

Footage of the slash wasn’t easy to find, but here’s an overhead shot in GIF form:

The slash happened during last Monday’s 3-2 loss for the Jets against the Ducks. The team’s play one more time (March 30 in Winnipeg), so perhaps there will be some fireworks.

Mika Zibanejad ‘confused’ as family is affected by Trump’s immigration ban


In criticisms from the likes of Steve Kerr in the NBA among others, many in the sports world have reacted to Donald Trump’s executive order to restrict border crossings from several Muslim-majority countries.

On the NHL’s side, it’s mostly been silence, with Gary Bettman offering a “no comment” on the matter during the All-Star weekend.

New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad ranks as at least one NHL player who is affected – or at least, his family’s been affected – by the controversial executive order, as the New York Daily News’ Justin Tasch reports.

Zibanejad, a 23-year-old Swedish center, has family living in Iran. He seems bewildered by the measures and wonders how he might be able to see them again.

“It hasn’t been easy for them to come here, and this certainly doesn’t make it easier, or even possible at this point,” Zibanejad said. “It’s hard to kind of comment on. I don’t want to get in too deep, but it seems like it’s very straightforward and they have very straight lines of what the deal is, but I find still they’re confused about it, still a lot of confusion about what’s wrong and what’s not.”

For what it’s worth, Zibanejad was able to travel internationally without incident during the All-Star break, according to Tasch.

Head to NBC News for far more on the fallout from that executive order.

(H/T to Puck Daddy.)

Some good Islanders news: Thomas Greiss signs three-year, $10M extension

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On a night where people once again wonder about the New York Islanders’ arena situation, some clarity came in net.

The team signed Thomas Greiss to a three-year contract extension on Monday. Reporters including Newsday’s Arthur Staple peg the deal as $10 million over three years, or $3.33 million per season.

That’s a nice bargain for the Islanders, while Greiss gets some cherished security. Greiss, 31, has been one of the best goaltending bargains in the NHL, carrying just a $1.5 million cap hit this season.

He’s put together excellent work with a career .919 save percentage, and things have only improved since he joined the Islanders. He went 23-11-4 with a strong .925 save percentage in 2015-16 and has been even better this season, managing a fantastic .928 save percentage over 25 games.

Greiss’ brilliant work has gone under the radar a bit thanks to the messes on and off the ice in Brooklyn, yet his strong work isn’t lost on management.

Kings place Greene on IR; could this mean Toffoli’s nearing a return?


It’s strange to wonder if a player being placed on IR is a good sign, but that might just be the case with the Los Angeles Kings.

The bad news is that defenseman Matt Greene was placed on injured reserve on Monday. He hasn’t played since Jan. 16, so it’s probably not too much of a surprise.

The positive side is that it could be a signal that someone else might be nearing a return. Could underrated winger Tyler Toffoli be ready (or almost ready) to return to the fold?

Toffoli, 24, has been sidelined since Dec. 20. He brings a two-way game that the Kings badly need as they try to scratch and claw for a playoff spot.

The Kings play five of their next six games on the road, so getting Toffoli back soon (maybe he’ll just play one of this week’s upcoming back-to-back set on Tuesday/Wednesday?) could be significant.