James O'Brien

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

Rangers’ Stepan admits goal slump is all he ‘can think about’

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New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan would like to say that he’s pushing his goal slump out of his mind, but that would be a lie.

“You try not to think about something, but it’s the only thing you can think about,” Stepan told the New York Post’s Larry Brooks. “It’s tough finding the balance between playing with a clear mind and playing relaxed the way you understand you have to be in order to do what it takes to win a hockey game. I’d like to say it’s not on my mind, but of course it is, almost all the time.”

So, not scoring a goal since Jan. 17 – a span of 22 games – is that dripping faucet that’s keeping Stepan up at night. Especially since generating eight assists in those 22 contests won’t silence critics.

Trigger shy?

Looking at his game log, it does indeed feel like he’s being “too fine” with his shot selection at times.

While he did manage five SOG against the Lightning on March 6, he’s only fired one shot on goal in three of his last five games. Maybe that’s not a product of over-thinking, but if you want to score a goal, sometimes you’re better off merely firing away.

Perhaps the Carolina Hurricanes will be the tonic tonight, then? Their goaltending has been weak enough at times that head coach Bill Peters found himself regrettably venting about backup Eddie Lack, while Cam Ward hasn’t been particularly effective in his own right.

The Rangers have been able to produce solid offense even with Stepan’s struggles, yet they have to hope that he can get his head right at least by the playoffs, when they may very well need all the help they can get.

Senators win fourth straight after handling Stars


DALLAS (AP) Defenseman Fredrik Claesson scored his first NHL goal and added an assist to help the Ottawa Senators win their fourth straight game, 5-2 over the Dallas Stars on Wednesday night.

Ottawa moved within four points of first-place Montreal in the Atlantic Division. The Senators’ winning streak began after they acquired Viktor Stalberg and Alexandre Burrows near the trade deadline.

Craig Anderson made 35 saves and tied the Ottawa franchise record with his 146th victory.

Stalberg and Cody Cedi also each had a goal and an assist for the Senators, and Mike Hoffman had two assists.

Chris Wideman and Jean-Gabriel Pageau also scored against Dallas starting goalie Kari Lehtonen, who left at 3:21 of the second period after allowing three goals in 18 shots.

Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen. Ottawa didn’t have a shot on goal against Niemi for 14:48, until Stalberg scored on the power play for a 4-1 lead. Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza scored for Dallas.

The Senators scored first on the power play at 13:41 of the first period. Stalberg passed cross-ice to Wideman in the right faceoff circle, and he put a wrist shot into the right side of the net before Lehtonen could get back.

Ottawa took a 2-0 lead at 15:21 when Zack Smith won a faceoff back to Claesson high in the slot for a slap shot and his first goal in 36 career NHL games.

Pageau slid the puck from the slot through traffic and between Lehtonen’s legs to knock the goalie from the game.

Seguin pulled Dallas back within two goals at 3-1. Spezza passed from behind the net to Seguin at the left, and he put the puck into a narrow opening inside the left post.

Stalberg deflected Dion Phaneuf‘s shot from the left post past Niemi.

Spezza scored on the power play in the third period with a shot that deflected off Mark Borowiecki‘s right leg.

Ceci’s goal at 9:01 of the third went in off Niemi’s skate.

NOTES: The Stars signed RW Adam Cracknell to a one-year contract extension for $675,000. In his seventh season, the first with Dallas, he has career highs of seven goals and 54 games played. . Ottawa C Kyle Turris missed his first game this season because of an injured finger. … In Pageau’s past four games against the Stars, he has six points (three goals, three assists). He won 10 of 11 faceoffs in the first two periods. … Playing in his third NHL game, Dallas’ Remi Elie had his first assist on Seguin’s goal, and Ales Hemsky had his first point in only five games played in an injury-riddled season. … Borowiecki, the league leader in penalty minutes, increased his total to 126 with a double minor for roughing in the first period. … The Senators had two goals on three power plays, after going 2 for 16 in their past six games, and Dallas’ penalty killers had been 14 for 16 in the previous six.


Senators: Play the second of three road games in four nights on Friday at Arizona.

Stars: Begin a four-game trip on Sunday at San Jose.

Penguins say Hornqvist is dealing with a concussion (but Letang is not)


Concussions are once again a concern for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who shared some good news and bad news about such injuries following Wednesday’s physical 7-4 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

The good-ish: Pens Inside Scoop (of the team website) passed along word from Mike Sullivan that Kris Letang isn’t dealing with a concussion or anything related to the stroke he suffered in the past. It’s a “hockey-related injury” that he’s currently rehabbing.

So, that seems fairly positive, but the Penguins didn’t provide a timetable for Letang’s return, so we will see.

The not-so-good: Patric Hornqvist, however, is dealing with a concussion. There is at least one element of mild optimism:

The Penguins’ trip continues from March 10-15, so that implies that there’s a chance Hornqvist will only miss four more games (or maybe fewer).

Naturally, concussions can be difficult to gauge, so his outlook could easily change.

Report: NHL plans to televise Golden Knights’ expansion draft


The NHL’s chief content officer Steve Mayer told Puck Daddy’s Josh Cooper that the league will televise the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft.

Such a TV event will take place in the same general location and timeframe as the 2017 NHL Awards in Vegas, according to that report.

This news comes on the heels of a report by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun that GMs wouldn’t disclose each team’s list of protected players. Such a report inspired more than a few people to wonder if the league was leaving a great opportunity on the table.

So, it sounds like the NHL will take advantage of the abundant TV potential of an expansion draft, even if some of the details need to be ironed out. Maybe the league could manage a way to take advantage of the expansion draft while also trying their best to avoid awkward and difficult feelings for players and GMs?

Either way, it’s heartening to hear that the league is looking to milk at least some of the entertainment potential out of this situation, even if the specifics feel a bit cloudy.

(Likely because those final decisions reportedly still need to be made.)

Jets coach on Penguins’ Sestito: ‘They didn’t call him up to dangle’


However you feel about the way the hit on Toby Enstrom played out – many believe the Jets defenseman put himself in a vulnerable position – it’s clear that the Penguins recalled Tom Sestito because they anticipated a physical game on Wednesday.

Now, the maliciousness of such intents? That’s where things get fuzzy and controversial, prompting Jets head coach Paul Maurice to possibly get himself in a little trouble.

Maurice noted that there was “no cost” to the Penguins to call up Sestito, a player who hadn’t appeared in the NHL since November. When asked if he believes that Sestito was recalled to do something, Maurice responded “They didn’t call him up to dangle.”


After that zinger, he went back into dry coach mode when asked if Sestito should be suspended, merely saying that he’s sure the NHL has a “plan” about him.

Maurice noted that Enstrom has been hospitalized out of fear of facial fractures, noting that the Jets lost a “good defenseman” on Wednesday.

Here’s full footage of Maurice’s comments:

The Penguins have bad injury news of their own as Patric Hornqvist is reportedly suffering from a concussion.

For what it’s worth, the Jets weren’t negative toward the Penguins in every regard, as Blake Wheeler said he respected that Evgeni Malkin “answered the bell” for a controversial hit by engaging in their brief fight.