James O'Brien

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

Keep your head up around Sam Bennett


For a smaller player who absorbed a ton of grief for failing to do a pull-up, Calgary Flames forward Sam Bennett sure has been able to … “stand up for himself” lately.

The most dramatic example came a week ago, when he shrugged off a significant size disadvantage and engaged in a bloody fight with Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba.

Another example came on Friday night, as Bennett delivered a resounding check on Devin Shore of the Dallas Stars in another Flames win.

You can see that big check above this post’s headline and the Trouba fight below:

It all points to a remarkably feisty side to the under-sized player. You almost wonder if, at some point, Bennett soaked in the sort of speech that Jeremy Roenick received from Mike Keenan.

Either way, the last week serves as a reminder for opponents: Bennett might be a lightweight, but he shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Jamie Benn possibly hurt after fighting Nikita Tryamkin

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Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn isn’t afraid to fight. Few stars are as gloriously willing to drop the gloves, thus giving PHT the opportunity to run that outstanding Getty photo of his Joe Thornton bout whenever possible.

Still, sometimes star players would be better off letting someone else throw punches.

Thursday might have been an example, as Benn responded to a hard hit by Nikita Tryamkin by getting in a fight that … well, wasn’t to his benefit. Tryamkin isn’t much shorter than Zdeno Chara, allowing him quite the reach advantage:

It allowed Tryamkin to remain remarkably relaxed.

Pretty entertaining. Then again, Benn fights tend to be events. Unfortunately, Benn might be injured:

Capitals’ Tom Wilson throws hard hit, dominates fight vs. Predators (Video)


Tom Wilson can be a polarizing figure – especially if you aren’t a Washington Capitals fan – but he can also be a force on the ice.

Sometimes that means raising an opponent’s ire enough to take an instigator penalty. Other times he delivers a huge hit or wins a fight.

In the case of the Capitals’ eventual 2-1 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators, Wilson was in top form. Witness a pretty resounding shift in the video above: Wilson nearly sends Mattias Ekholm over the boards before defeating Austin Watson in a pretty resounding fight.

It’s quite the spectacle.

Again, the Predators ended up winning in overtime, as Viktor Arvidsson continues his remarkable breakthrough season:

No tiebreakers needed: Blackhawks beef up Central lead over Wild


The Chicago Blackhawks took another step toward winning the Central Division title on Thursday, and not just because the Minnesota Wild remained in neutral.

Scott Darling came in for an “under the weather” (or maybe no quotation marks needed?) Corey Crawford on Thursday, helping Chicago grind out a 2-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

This marks a three-game winning streak for the Blackhawks, who are now 15-3-0 since February began.

On the other end, things look pretty ugly for the Wild if you merely look at March.

They’ve now lost three in a row and five of six, falling to 2-6-0 in February. As you can see, they’re not just losing; they’re failing to even grab “loser points.”

With that, Chicago opens up the sort of lead where you don’t need to split hairs about regulation/overtime wins and other factors:

Blackhawks: 95 points in 70 games (42 ROW, 45 W)
Wild: 92 points in 69 games (40 ROW, 43 W)

Now, that’s far from an insurmountable lead, yet it’s pretty significant considering how frequently the Blackhawks have been chasing the Wild so far this season. The best news for Minnesota might just be that their schedule softens up, at least as far as offering up more home contests after they limped through a five-game road trip.

Chicago is riding high, although they do need to keep an eye on Crawford.

The Blackhawks themselves will attest to the notion that a big lead can turn on its head with dizzying speed, even with a mere month remaining in the season. Still, this the best view Chicago’s had in quite some time.

Yes, everything came up Maple Leafs tonight


In an era of “loser points” and three-point games, it’s rare to see a team win a night as conclusively as the Toronto Maple Leafs prospered on Thursday.

(It must be especially sweet for Toronto considering how glum Tuesday looked.)

Most directly, they didn’t just beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in regulation, they dominated by a score of 5-0. They chased Andrei Vasilevskiy early in a game that got out of hand quickly.

If that wasn’t positive enough, just about every other relevant team failed to muster even a standings point. The Islanders, Flyers and Panthers joined the Lightning as key East bubble teams who ended the evening with a goose egg (with the Flyers suffering a defeat that was arguably more embarrassing that Tampa Bay’s tumble).

About the only competitor who made gains were the Carolina Hurricanes (3-1 win against Minnesota) and it remains to be seen if they’ll be a legitimate contender for one of the conference’s final spots. The odds certainly aren’t in their favor.

Speaking of which, here’s an updated look at the race for the East’s final wild card spot:

Final spot: Maple Leafs – 78 points in 69 games (31 ROW, 32 W)

Islanders – 77 points in 70 GP (32 ROW, 33 W)
Lightning – 77 points in 70 GP (30 ROW, 34 W)
Flyers – 72 points in 70 GP (26 ROW, 32 W)
Panthers – 71 points in 69 GP (26 ROW, 30 W)
Hurricanes – 70 points in 68 GP (27 ROW, 29 W)

Yeah, that really has to sting for the Maple Leafs’ competition. Read more about the bubble teams botching Thursday’s opportunities in this post.