James O'Brien

Dirty or not? Brendan Smith’s hit on Stefan Matteau (Video)


Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith didn’t get penalized for a hard hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Stefan Matteau, but that doesn’t mean it was clean.

There’s plenty of debate on social media about it being dirty or not, but watch that check in the Sportsnet video above to decide for yourself.

As far as Matteau goes, he left the ice and appeared to be shaken up, yet it’s too early to tell if he’s injured. Smith was suspended back in 2011 but otherwise has a clean record in the NHL.

Here’s a taste of the back-and-forth:

All of a sudden, the Canucks are scoring (and Henrik Sedin makes history)

Vancouver Canucks' Sven Baertschi, Daniel Sedin, Linden Vey and Henrik Sedin, from left, celebrate Vey's goal against the New York Islanders during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

At this point in the season, the Vancouver Canucks probably face a fork in the road: “Save face” or “Tank to oblivion.”

They saved some face on Thursday, breaking their franchise-record scoring drought when Bo Horvat scored about seven minutes into tonight’s game against the red-hot Nashville Predators.

The Canucks seemed relieved right down to their Twitter feed:

It’s easy to see why, too:

It’s probably an exaggeration to say that this opened the floodgates, but Henrik Sedin DID add another goal to make it 2-0 in the first period. In doing so, Sedin is now 88th all-time in scoring, passing legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard in the process.

Dust off your “break up the Canucks” jokes …

Wild warmly welcome Backstrom back (Parise’s less kind, though)


Hey, there are limits to how polite you can be to a teammate-turned-opponent.

So far, the Minnesota Wild are presenting a different take on “Minnesota Nice.”

On one hand, the franchise provided a great nod to Niklas Backstrom as he dresses for the Calgary Flames, acknowledging a run that made him the Wild’s franchise wins leader (among other categories):

On the other, there’s the actual playing part, and the Wild simply can’t afford to do him a solid.

Zach Parise has been particularly effective so far against Backstrom, scoring two goals in less than a minute against the goalie he likely saw frequently in practice.

If the Flames don’t watch out, Backstrom might struggle to finish the night against his old cronies.

Update: Parise managed a first-period hat trick in this one. Harsh. You can see the videos at the top of this post.

Video: Belichick, Ortiz, other Boston notables honor Bruins’ Julien


The Boston Bruins gave one great salute to head coach Claude Julien on Thursday, celebrating the fact that he now owns the franchise’s record for coaching wins.

(It seems fitting that it comes against Roberto Luongo‘s team in a big game, doesn’t it? Even if it’s with the Florida Panthers this time … maybe?)

Anyway, one of the highlights was a video tribute, which included Boston sports icons like David “Big Papi” Ortiz and Bill Belichick. Also interesting to see other coaches pop up and praise Julien:

The veteran head coach said he’s humbled by the great response:

It wasn’t the only noteworthy presentation by the Bruins, as they also held a moment of silence for the attacks in Brussels.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ latest issue: A ‘minor concussion’

Edmonton Oilers' forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins walks between stations during the opening day of NHL hockey camp in Edmonton, Alberta, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Dan Riedlhuber)

The Edmonton Oilers provided an update on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on Thursday, and it’s not especially promising: they deem it a “minor concussion.”

He’s out for tonight’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, and considering the stakes and his woeful injury history, the Oilers would probably wise to shut him down for the rest of 2015-16.

That’s up to the Oilers, yet either way, RNH’s injury luck has been just horrendous.

Thanks to the Hockey News’ listings, we can take a look at his long line of troubling maladies:

2015-16: Currently concussed, missed 23 games with a hand injury

2013-14 and 2014-15: He was actually relatively healthy, playing in 76 and 80 games. Still lacks a fully healthy season, however.

2012-13: Yes, the season was limited by that lockout, but he missed eight out of 48 games. Disturbingly fitting that he was placed on IR less than a month after signing a seven-year contract extension.

2011-12: Missed 13 games with an upper-body injury and seven with a shoulder injury (these issues would resurface later in his career).

Even Sami Salo probably feels a little bad for RNH looking at his past few years, especially when you consider the fact that Nugent-Hopkins is still just 22.

It’s frustrating for the Oilers, and as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman noted in the latest edition of 30 Thoughts, even the rest of the league is a little exasperated:

4. You could almost hear a league-wide groan when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins left Tuesday night’s game in Arizona after taking a Connor Murphy hit. Don’t know if his future is in the Alberta capital or elsewhere, but it certainly complicates matters if he finishes the season injured. I’d keep him, but it’s not only the Oilers who recognize his value.

Yes, it’s frustrating, but none of this alters the wiser path toward ending his season rather than risking further head injuries.