James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Cooper laments Lightning’s ‘self-inflicted loss’ to Canucks

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At some point, we have to wonder if the Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t underachieving. Maybe they’re just not very good, at least in 2016-17?

Friday presented a possible bit of evidence; the Lightning lost one of those games you have to win, dropping a 4-2 loss to the struggling Vancouver Canucks. Bolts coach Jon Cooper said the sort of things many were likely thinking.

“Just a self-inflicted loss is what it is,” Cooper said, according to Bryan Burns of the team site. ” … In the end, it’s a tough game not to get points out of, that’s for sure.”

There have been far too many of those for the Lightning lately, as they fall to 15-14-2 in a competitive Eastern Conference. The Lightning are now 2-6-1 in their last nine games, with optimism becoming tougher and tougher to come by.

Then again, the Canucks are in a spot where they might hand opponents some unexpected losses. This win began a four-game homestand for Vancouver, with a date against John Tortorella and the red-hot Blue Jackets on Sunday. Overall, they play nine of their next 11 games at home.

Maybe the Canucks will make this loss look a better in retrospect, but right now, it looks pretty bad. Besides, moral victories mean very little to a Tampa Bay team that needs every point it can get.

Elite eight: Blue Jackets beat Flames handily to keep streak going

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The Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t just winning, they’re dominating.

Just look at Friday’s 4-1 win against the Calgary Flames. That’s their eighth consecutive win, and it’s not mere dumb luck; six of those eights victories have been by at least two goals. Maybe more impressively, they’re 13-1-2 in their last 16 games. Wow.

Playing fewer games that their peers muddles the Metropolitan Division, but the bottom line is that the Blue Jackets are right up there with the best:

1. Penguins – 44 points in 31 games played (after overtime loss to Kings)
2. Rangers – 43 points in 32 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 42 points in 28 GP
4. Capitals – 41 points in 29 GP (after shootout win against Hurricanes)
5. Flyers – 41 points in 32 GP

Columbus is also right up there with the elites as far as goal differential goes. After Friday’s win, they’re at +36, tied with the Rangers for the league’s best mark.

The scary thing for opponents is that you can’t really focus on one Blue Jackets player. Sergei Bobrovsky is the MVP, but as far as scoring goes, they’re getting goals from a wide variety of sources.

As an example, Sam Gagner is going from free agent afterthought to 13 goals, the current team lead. Zach Werenski continues to be as dominant as you’ll see a rookie defenseman, generating two assists to give him 20 points already in 2016-17.

(It’s possible that Werenski actually got the goal.)

Matt Calvert‘s 4-1 goal feels emblematic of the best moments so far for the Blue Jackets, moments that have been in remarkably steady supply:

This team just won’t be stopped.

Speaking of which, John Tortorella could win his 500th game as a coach and extend Columbus’ win streak to nine games against (wait for it) the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. Yeah, sometimes things just fall into place.

Hobbling Habs: Sven Andrighetto is hurt now, too

Friday was a bad night for the Montreal Canadiens, and not just because of a 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks that left Carey Price fuming.

Before the game, word surfaced that Andrew Shaw would be out Friday and Saturday due to concussion issues. Now it looks like Sven Andrighetto will miss Saturday’s game against the Washington Capitals, too, after the fall into the boards you can see in the video above.

Chris Terry‘s been recalled and Andrighetto won’t travel with the team, according to LNH.com’s Arpon Basu.

To recap, the Canadiens are now without Shaw, Andrighetto, David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk in their forward corps and Greg Pateryn on defense.

Montreal starts a potentially ruinous road stretch on Dec. 23, so as bad as this is right now, the Habs have to cross their fingers that some of those guys are at least going to return to the lineup soon.

Eichel seemingly OK after scary fall, Sabres edge Isles in OT

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Things can change when it comes to potential injuries, but at the moment, the Buffalo Sabres’ biggest “win” of Friday is that it seems like Jack Eichel is OK.

They also gained the no-quotation-marks-needed win tonight, edging the New York Islanders 3-2 in overtime.

Former Islanders made a big difference in this game, as Matt Moulson scored the tally that sent the contest into overtime while Kyle Okposo notched an assist on the decisive goal. Buffalo fell behind twice in this game but ultimately won.

But, yeah, the biggest break is that this awkward fall from a Johnny Boychuk hit seems like it won’t be a huge concern for Eichel:

The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington notes that Eichel missed time due to the league’s concussion protocol. Either way, he returned to the game, a promising sign that he’s not going to miss time.

If that changes, PHT will pass along word.

Tough luck for Penguins: Fall to Kings in OT, lose two defensemen

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Friday’s game ended in a fittingly frustrating game for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Luck hadn’t been on their side for much of tonight’s contest against the Los Angeles Kings, and that was the case during Tyler Toffoli‘s 1-0 game-winning goal. Phil Kessel came speeding in, saw his stick break, opening the door for that opportunistic overtime-winner.

With that, the Penguins’ seven-game winning streak came to an end while the Kings rattled off wins on back-to-back nights to start their formidable nine-game road trip on a high note.

The Penguins gained a standings point, so don’t be surprised if they’re most concerned about the injuries they suffered during this game. An already-addled defense (Kris Letang could miss significant time) saw two concerning moments, as Trevor Daley and Brian Dumoulin both were hurt on Friday.

Dumoulin was actually on the ice for the game-winner, however, so maybe it won’t be all-bad for Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh carried much of the play in this one, forcing Peter Budaj to make 39 saves for a shutout, the veteran’s third goose egg of 2016-17. They just couldn’t get that extra boost to score against the Kings, however, and fell to Los Angeles in a tight contest.

Even if the Penguins dodge additional injuries to their defense, it was still an irritating loss for the team. The Kings, meanwhile, show that they’re capable of grinding out wins in pretty difficult circumstances.