James O'Brien

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

Video: Matt Martin sets off brawl between Leafs and Canadiens

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Say what you will about Matt Martin; if nothing else, he can get a rise out of opponents.

It’s up to the Toronto Maple Leafs to get the most out of his agitating ways, but one way or another, he got under the skin of multiple Montreal Canadiens during the Habs’ eventual 5-3 win on Saturday.

Watch in the chaotic video above as Martin aggressively pursues Jeff Petry to land a hit, gets into an unpleasant exchange or two with other Habs and inspires two different fights. It’s quite the scene.

The two rivals combined for 76 penalty minutes and at least two highlight-worthy goals, which you can view here.

Here’s a vote for a playoff series between these two upstarts, whether that happens as soon as this year or in the near future. If that happens, expect Martin to make even more “friends” in Montreal.

Backstrom’s 500th assist makes difference for Capitals vs. Senators

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You know what makes a milestone moment that much sweeter? Having that historic stat also factor into your team winning the game.

Nicklas Backstrom‘s 500th career assist qualified for that, as T.J. Oshie was the only goal-scorer of a 1-0 Washington Capitals win against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.

Backstrom became the 10th Swedish player to hit that milestone, and he’s one of the fastest active players to that mark. The Capitals’ PR team collected a few other interesting tidbits regarding where Backstrom ranks among great passers, both from his country and overall:

He is the first player from the 2006 Draft class to reach the 500-assist plateau and also ranks first among players drafted in 2006 in points. The Gavle, Sweden, native is the 10th Swedish-born player in NHL history to reach 500 assists, joining Nicklas Lidstrom (878), Mats Sundin (785), Henrik Sedin (765), Daniel Alfredsson (713), Borje Salming (637), Peter Forsberg (636), Daniel Sedin (600), Thomas Steen (553) and Henrik Zetterberg (548). Backstrom is the second-fastest Swedish-born player in NHL history to reach the 500-assist plateau (691 GP), trailing Forsberg (551 GP) and the third-fastest player to reach 500 assists among active NHL players, trailing Sidney Crosby (554 GP) and Jaromir Jagr (642 GP). He also ranks second among active players (min. 600 GP) in assists per game (.723).

It wasn’t all good news for Oshie, however, as he suffered an upper-body injury. That was about all reporters could get from Barry Trotz after the 1-0 win.

Braden Holtby was the true star of the game with 30 saves, but hey, it wouldn’t be a Backstrom milestone if some other great Capital didn’t steal away some of the limelight, right?

Video: Marner’s no-look assist, Scherbak’s first goal in first game on first shot

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Nikita Scherbak didn’t take long to make an impact in his NHL debut.

The Montreal Canadiens’ first-rounder (26th overall in 2014) scored his first NHL goal on his first shot, though he fell short of the Mario Lemieux mark of doing it on his first shift.

(That’s OK, kid.)

The Habs currently lead the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 in part because of Scherbak’s goal:

It wasn’t the only noteworthy moment by a rookie, either. As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, Mitch Marner made an obscene play look easy on his no-look assist to Tyler Bozak.

Boudreau doesn’t like what he’s seeing from Wild lately

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It would be an overreaction for Bruce Boudreau to get too worked up after the Minnesota Wild gave up a 2-0 lead and eventually lost 4-3 in overtime to the Los Angeles Kings.

After all, this marks just their third loss since Dec. 1, and they’ve failed to generate a standings point in just one game during that run.

Boudreau’s accustomed to regular season success,* however, so his eyes are on the big picture. And in that regard, he doesn’t like what he’s been seeing lately.

Now, some will shrug off those concerns. After all, the Wild are still 4-1-1 in the past six games, a run that would leave most of their peers envious.

When you look a little closer, it’s easier to understand Boudreau’s concern. The Wild have allowed 22 goals over the past six games, with four goals allowed on five of those occasions.

You can find a silver lining with even that – the Wild are scoring goals in these games to grab points and often wins, which was a concern when they seemed to rely on Devan Dubnyk too heavily – but again, Boudreau has higher aims than merely generating regular season success. Coaches focused on the playoffs often try to identify and address problems before they fester into something more permanent.

With a +37 goal differential on the season and a strong chance to catch Chicago for the Central Division crown, the Wild have a lot of reasons for optimism. Credit Boudreau for at least trying to keep them from getting too cocky.

* – It’s fitting that he laughed off clinching his role as the West All-Star coach.

Trouble brewing for Predators? James Neal to IR

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The Nashville Predators aren’t hopeless, but they’re also in a tough spot … which includes being out of the playoffs if they began today.

To make matters worse, P.K. Subban‘s injury isn’t their only health concern. The Predators announced that they placed James Neal on injured reserve while calling up Frederick Gaudreau on Saturday.

Neal joins some other forwards who are dealing with issues of varying severity, including Colin Wilson and Viktor Arvidsson.

Neal is expected to miss at least the next two games. Things get dicey after Nashville’s next three, as they’ll face a five-game road trip from Jan. 14-22. Having Neal’s scoring punch – he leads the Predators with 14 goals this season – could be crucial in getting over the hump during that haul.