James O'Brien

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

 

Video: Ryan Suter didn’t just suffer own-goal, it was an own-face

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This seems a little on the nose: Ryan Suter, a defenseman who almost always seems to be economical with his positioning, found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time in a big way on Saturday.

Consider this: he wasn’t just the victim of a dreaded own-goal. That puck actually deflected off of his face/visor, making it something of an “own-face.”

Marian Gaborik was credited with his second goal of the season for the scoring-deprived Los Angeles Kings against the Minnesota Wild, tying the game 2-2:

The Kings Twitter account had some fun with it, as you’d expect:

Nice.

Some might say that the Kings’ first two goals capture how they’ve been scoring in general lately: 1) Jeff Carter or 2) blind happenstance.

Jets don’t have a Laine update yet, label McCabe hit ‘clean’

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The Winnipeg Jets are like fans of the sport as a whole: unsure of Patrik Laine‘s status, but hoping for the best.

Head coach Paul Maurice said there was “no update” regarding Laine after the Jets’ 4-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

Remarkably, as much as the hit hurts literally and figuratively, even the Jets seem OK with it. Maurice labels the Jake McCabe check as “clean” and even Jets Nation describes it as a “textbook” collision.

Often you see some disagreements with big hits that result in injuries, but in this case, it really just seems like an unfortunate result.

Also interesting: Blake Wheeler looks at it as a turning point in the game, as the Jets’ website reports.

“Don’t know anything about it yet, so I’m hoping for the best,” Wheeler said. “The momentum was shifting at that point, so that probably bumped it in their direction even more. We’re down a goal and he can provide instant offence and not having him on your bench definitely hurt.”

PHT will keep an eye out for more substantial updates on the sniping rookie.

Video: Coyotes lose ninth in a row on brutal Smith turnover

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Earlier this season, Mike Smith kept the Arizona Coyotes in games that would normally be lopsided losses. On Friday night, he was the goat, at least in overtime.

The Coyotes lost their ninth game in a row most directly from the puckhandling mistake/bit of bad luck Smith experienced, with the Anaheim Ducks winning 3-2 in OT.

You can see that gaffe in the video above.

The question is: was Cory Schneider‘s mistake from the New Jersey Devils’ 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs even worse?

Tough call.

Canucks’ six-game tear is good for Ryan Miller, if no one else

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If anyone can benefit from the Vancouver Canucks not doing a “tank job,” it’s the one guy conceivably most capable of thwarting such efforts: Ryan Miller, whose contract expires after this season.

It’s no secret that a goalie can make the difference between winning and losing many nights, and that was certainly the case on Friday; Miller willed the Canucks to a 4-2 win against the Calgary Flames, the team’s sixth consecutive victory. As of this moment, Vancouver is – shockingly – in the West’s final wild card spot.

The Flames generated more shots on goal in the third period (23) than Vancouver managed all game as Calgary ultimately generated a 46-13 edge. Miller had none of it, stopping 44 out of 46 shots.

Loui Eriksson didn’t really provide in-depth analysis above, but at least it shows that the Canucks are aware of how much this latest win hinged on Miller’s performance.

That’s fitting, too, because Miller’s future hinges on his work in 2016-17 overall.

At 36, his stature in the league is muted, yet one could also see serious potential as a backup or 1B-platoon-type goalie. If a contender like Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh loses a key goalie, maybe they scoop up Miller at a decent price, giving him a chance to extend his career while making a little more money?

Such a scenario is far easier to ponder if Miller keeps the Canucks in the playoff picture.

Now, this six-game winning streak is actually logically timed, even if Friday’s game is by no means repeatable.

The Canucks have played five of their last six games in Vancouver and nine of 11 overall at home since Dec. 16. If they were ever to go on an anti-tanking run, this would be the time to do it.

Now, we can debate the merits of piling up wins this late in the season all we want, but we can be certain that Miller has zero interest in losing games.

If he keeps this up, we might just get a real barometer regarding how much management truly wants to win vs. trying to get the best draft lottery odds possible.