James O'Brien

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

Penguins become fourth team to clinch playoffs; Caps keep Metro lead

Injuries continue to assail the Pittsburgh Penguins, yet they keep battling. Perhaps clinching a playoff berth will soothe some of those wounds, then.

They punched their ticket after beating the Buffalo Sabres in a spirited 3-1 bout on Tuesday, becoming the fourth NHL team to do so in 2016-17. As the latest example of how ridiculous the Metropolitan Division is, consider that the Penguins are the third Metro team to clinch.

Speaking of that stout division, Pittsburgh didn’t get to go to first place tonight, as the Washington Capitals rode a great Alex Ovechkin performance to a 4-2 win against the Calgary Flames.

Let’s take a look at the three-team race for the top spot in the Central after Tuesday’s proceedings:

Capitals – 102 points in 72 games
Penguins – 101 points in 72 GP
Blue Jackets – 100 points in 71 GP

(Those lagging Rangers would merely lead the Atlantic Division. Slackers.)

You can check out some of the nastiness from Penguins – Sabres here and a mixture of Sidney Crosby‘s brilliance and saltiness here.

Video: Torey Krug goes coast-to-coast for impressive Bruins goal

If there’s one obvious choice for a Boston Bruins defenseman who would benefit from the team’s increased emphasis on attacking, it would be Torey Krug.

Usually that means advancing the puck in transition and being a little more aggressive in offensive support … but every now and then, Krug turns on the jets and creates chances more or less by himself.

Tuesday presented one of his most impressive moments, as he made it look way too easy going coast-to-coast to score a goal against the Ottawa Senators. You wonder if Erik Karlsson felt a tinge of jealousy in that moment.

Flu seems to be in the water for Sharks with Vlasic out this time


The San Jose Sharks have already been struggling to score goals and win games. Now they’re also fighting off the sniffles.

Chris Tierney missed Monday’s game with the flu, now Marc-Edouard Vlasic is missing tonight’s contest against the Minnesota Wild (in progress, on NBCSN) with an illness.

CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz wonders if a bug is going around, and he’s likely not the only one.

With Jannik Hansen hurt – likely injured, at least? – the Sharks are trying to break their three-game skid with a group that’s far from 100 percent.

Video: Pens’ Guentzel suffers concussion from hit by Sabres’ Ristolainen


Sidney Crosby showed a moment of brilliance and, in contrast, a moment of bitterness during Tuesday’s Penguins – Sabres game, but it wasn’t the only nasty moment.

Crosby’s young linemate Jake Guentzel was clearly struggling after a hit by Buffalo blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen during the first period. Ristolainen received a five-minute major and game misconduct for interference on that play.

You can see that hard hit in the video above.

The Penguins have already been battling a ridiculous slew of injuries, and it sure seemed like Guentzel was dazed. Not good.

This game means a ton more to Pittsburgh than it does to Buffalo, yet the physical play and decent array of scoring chances makes it seem like both teams are quite engaged.

Update: Bad news for the Penguins, as it appears that Guentzel suffered a concussion.

VIDEO: Crosby scores 41st goal, spears O’Reilly below the belt


For the most part – not with everyone, but with many – gripes about the more … um, abrasive side of Sidney Crosby‘s game have subsided. Every now and then, the superstar Pittsburgh Penguin shows that less appealing aspect, however.

Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres really put the opposite ends of the spectrum on display.

On one hand, you have an ugly moment, as Crosby appeared to spear Ryan O'Reilly in the groin (see video above).

On the other hand, Crosby scored his 41st goal of 2016-17 in dramatic fashion, blazing by the Sabres for what was more or less a one-on-all tally:

You may notice that “ROR” was on the ice for that moment.