James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Kovalev, Brodeur would’ve killed it at All-Star Game’s ‘Four Line Challenge’

It’s reasonable to bemoan the death of the Breakaway Challenge heading into the 2017 NHL All-Star Game, but we should also give its replacement “The Four Line Challenge” a shot.

Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski provides a nice breakdown of some of the ways the event might be great and also why it may not work, stated well here:

This could also be the new “passing pucks into mini-nets,” as these players frustratingly miss shot after shot after reaching a certain distance and the crowd slips slowly into a coma.

Indeed. The event itself is kind of a brain-full to explain in words, so luckily the NHL laid it all out in this video:

Yeah, that’s a lot to digest.

After sorting things out a bit, it does kind of make you miss the sublime skill of Alex Kovalev, who probably would get a fairer shake these days. One of his old mix tapes is basically an argument for this event:

Martin Brodeur also would have been a game-changer, what with goalies getting bonus points later in the competition:

It almost makes you yearn for old-timers to get an invite to the festivities, eh?

Then again, the beauty of competitions like these is we get to find out which All-Stars boast the same freakish skills. There won’t be systems or opponents to get in the way of those displays, either.

Of course, as Wyshynski notes, it also opens the door for silent crowds and players frustratingly missing targets … but there’s a segment of the audience that will love that part the most.

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    Flames put Gaudreau back with Monahan, life makes a little more sense

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    Look, it totally makes sense for teams to strive for scoring depth. Just look at what spreading the wealth did for the Pittsburgh Penguins during their Stanley Cup run.

    Even so, in these uncertain times, there’s also some comfort to seeing dynamic duos reunite, and the Calgary Herald indicates that will be the case for the Calgary Flames, as Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are back together.

    The wider consensus is that Monahan generally benefits the most from being with Gaudreau, something you can see plainly in “WOWY” stats.

    This specific instance presents an interesting wrinkle, however, as it’s Monahan who has the hot hand.

    He’s currently riding a five-game goal streak, and he’s also sprinkled in two assists for good measure. You can tell he’s confident even by looking at shots on goal; Monahan’s fired an impressive 25 on net during the past six games.

    “I think I’m getting a lot of chances right now,” Monahan said, via the Calgary Herald. “When you’re getting chances, that means you’re doing things right. When you’re getting those chances, if you’re not putting the puck in the net, it can be frustrating. Right now, I’m getting some lucky bounces.”

    (Hey, he might be on a hot streak, but he’s still, well, not a great quote.)

    Gaudreau, meanwhile, has one goal in 2017. He has just three points in his last 12 games.

    Some of that is failing to get the bounces Monahan mentioned, but maybe Gaudreau’s better off with his partner-in-crime, too? It can’t hurt for the Flames to experiment, especially considering the fact that they have something special in the “MMM Line” of Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik.

    Really, the bigger question is probably still: who will ultimately fit with Gaudreau and Monahan? For now, the answer is Alex Chiasson, but the Flames are still searching for a better solution.

    Gaudreau, Monahan and the rest of the Flames face an interesting test in the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.

    Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

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    Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

    Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

    “There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

    Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

    Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

    From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

    Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

    With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

    Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

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    If your reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

    It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

    Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

    Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
    Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

    Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

    Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

    Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

    Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

    Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

    Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

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    Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

    The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

    Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

    Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

    The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.