James O'Brien

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

Video: McDavid to Matthews goal is as great as you’d expect

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Every now and then, we get a break from debating the relative merits of Justin Abdelkader and Dustin Byfuglien and just get to watch something exhilarating.

It didn’t take Team North America very long to provide another pinch-yourself moment, as Connor McDavid roasted Pavel Datsyuk (!) to set up Auston Matthews for a blistering 1-0 goal against Russia.

You can see it in the video above; allow us to recommend watching it over and over again.

Once Toronto Maple Leafs fans got past the initial rush of seeing that goal, they would likely also enjoy noting that this was Matthews’ first goal at the Air Canada Centre.

There’s really a lot to take in, including Matthews and McDavid combining for that tally with Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin on the ice for Russia.

(Some are even making hasty Wayne Gretzky to Mario Lemieux comparisons.)

Perhaps North America will slow down as the World Cup goes on, but either way, this blistering collecting of talent is already providing a beautiful vision of a hopeful hockey future.

Update: Aaron Ekblad deals with ‘mild’ concussion

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Update: Aaron Ekblad is dealing with a “mild concussion,” according to reporters including ESPN’s Craig Custance.

Team North America GM Peter Chiarelli would only say he’s day-to-day during Sportsnet’s second intermission of tonight’s game against Russia.

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Tough news for North America and the Florida Panthers: Aaron Eklbad cannot play against Russia because of an upper-body injury.

North America at least has a nice option in reserve, as Jacob Trouba takes Ekblad’s place.

The belief (according to onlookers including Postmedia’s Michael Traikos) is that Ekblad was injured thanks to a Leo Komarov hit. You can actually see the moment of contact in the photo above, as Ekblad is almost lost in the mass of humanity.

Stephanie “My Regular Face” also has the GIF of the hit that may have hurt Ekblad:

Neither Team North America nor the Panthers have provided any additional information regarding how serious Ekblad’s upper-body injury is, at least beyond sidelining for at least this game.

If it’s significant, this is another bullet point for GMs who may argue against the World Cup of Hockey becoming a fixture.

NHL goes Lenny Kravitz’s way to replace Green Day

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The NHL is probably disappointed that Green Day backed out of “the World Cup of Hockey Celebration of Champions,” yet Lenny Kravitz is a solid replacement.

(It was really tempting to drop a joke like “Dreadlocks replace punk rock,” but Kravitz ruined that joke with a hair cut a solid decade or so ago. Not a team player.)

Credit the league for offering a full refund for the Sept. 23 event for those who can’t stomach the change from Green Day to Lenny Kravitz.

Whatever you might say about Kravitz’s current place in the pop culture consciousness, he gets a pass here for this:

USA must beat Canada after Europe edges Czechs in OT

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You know how Team USA kept throwing the phrase “must-win” around regarding Tuesday’s game against Canada? Now that’s literally true.

The Americans weren’t active on Monday, yet it feels like a loss. That’s the nature of round-robin tournaments, at least when you don’t “control your own destiny” after stumbling.

Team Europe grabbed two standings points by winning, and worse yet, the Czech Republic rode Petr Mrazek‘s (mostly) fantastic work to at least get to overtime. They got a crucial “charity point” – to use NHL regular season parlance – and now the U.S. has to beat Canada or they’re out of the World Cup.

Mrazek produced some fantastic work at times, including generating one of the saves of the tournament:

Unfortunately for the Czech Republic, Mats Zuccarello beat Mrazek on a goal that may haunt the Detroit Red Wings netminder moments later.

Zuccarello also found Leon Draisaitl for a breakout pass on the eventual overtime game-winner, so those two forwards have been quite a find for the seemingly ramshackle roster for Europe.

With Team North America and Europe starting the tournament strong, unusual rosters seem to be thriving early on.

The U.S. doesn’t have much time to turn things around.

Abdelkader with Kane? Tortorella isn’t ‘over-thinking it’

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For better or worse, John Tortorella is committed to his vision of what works in hockey.

Specifically: when in doubt, Tortorella goes for grit over skill. That’s not to say that he’s dismissing talent altogether when making moves for Team USA … but his fixation on Justin Abdelkader fits nicely into that narrative.

While he’s stated that line combinations aren’t set in stone, it’s still resounding to see Abdelkader line up with Patrick Kane. At least during a best-on-best tournament.

“There isn’t anything thinking,” Tortorella said when asked to justify the combo. “You’re over-thinking it.”

Sheesh, Tortorella is practically writing the jokes for us, isn’t he?

The obvious

Analytics-friendly thinking would dictate that Team USA would want to put a greater emphasis on skill after being shut out by Team Europe, especially as they anticipate a Canada team that’s willing to blend talent with effort.

The argument that Tortorella is set in his ways, likely to his roster’s detriment, is fair.

Devil’s advocate

On the other hand, there are certain factors that justify this allegedly non-thinking way of thinking.

For one thing, Abdelkader himself explained to the AP’s Stephen Whyno and others that he’s had plenty of experience playing with high-end skaters such as Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit. These aren’t exactly uncharted waters for the hard-driving forward.

It’s easy to see why his forechecking ways appeal to Torts, but consider this: Abdelkader actually did play pretty well in America’s opener.

According to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers, Abdelkader was one of America’s best forwards from a possession standpoint. He also managed three shots on goal with modest ice time of almost 12 minutes.

If you take name recognition and previous experience out of the equation, Tortorella is rewarding someone who did some nice things in a very specific example.

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Look, the giggles make sense. It’s pretty odd to react to being shut out by putting a limited (if hard-working) forward with one of your few game-breakers in Kane.

There really is a thought process to this non-thinking, though.

The U.S. likely knew what it was getting into in choosing Tortorella. It probably won’t be pretty, yet that’s sort of how Torts likes it.