James O'Brien

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

Devils management to players: ‘Play [blanking] harder’


Maybe it’s about Cory Schneider‘s unexpected struggles. Perhaps it boils down to a team with limited talent showing its true colors. Whatever the case may be, the New Jersey Devils are currently on a seven-game losing streak.

GM Ray Shero doesn’t pin the struggles on coach John Hynes. Instead, the management team has quite the R-rated message for their players, as The Record’s Andrew Gross reports.

“Play harder,” Hynes said of the message management had for the team. “Really. Play [bleeping] harder. That’s what I’m talking about. There’s a will they need. There’s a passion and emotion to our game. How many scrums have we been involved with? No one is mad at us. There’s got to be pushback in your game and pride in your game. Someone takes your lunch money, what the [expletive]? It’s not good. That’s something we established last year. It’s a tenacity to your game. Our team last year, we never gave up. That, to me, is what you’re trying to build, and that’s pride.”

Shero also used the word “pride” in describing what he wants from his team, a group he believes has been looking “slow” lately.

The Devils are 0-6-1 in their last seven games, with just three wins since Nov. 17 (a 3-10-4 run).

Considering the level of competition in the East in general and the Metropolitan Division more specifically, New Jersey doesn’t have much room for error (if any). Some might believe that they’re simply better off flopping to grab some more high-end talent to add alongside the likes of Schneider and Taylor Hall.

Still, this isn’t a franchise that’s particularly used to cellar dwelling, so it’s easier to say “just tank” than to actually go through that slog.

Really, the Devils may say some, um, unprintable things if you bring up such an idea.


WATCH LIVE: Capitals at Flyers – Wednesday Night Rivalry


Yes, they’ve stumbled just the slightest bit recently, but the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers are still trending up in a big way. Wednesday serves as a nice barometer for where, exactly, they are.

More precisely, the Flyers currently hold the first wild card spot in the East, but their edge is minimal considering the fact that the Capitals only trail them by one point with four games in hand.

Of course, neither team is content with a wild card spot alone, as each hopes to climb higher in the maddeningly competitive Metro Division.

There’s plenty on the line in that regard, and with talented casts headed by Claude Giroux and Alex Ovechkin, there should be fireworks on “Wednesday Night Rivalry.”

Watch the game on NBCSN, online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Cooper laments Lightning’s ‘self-inflicted loss’ to Canucks


At some point, we have to wonder if the Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t underachieving. Maybe they’re just not very good, at least in 2016-17?

Friday presented a possible bit of evidence; the Lightning lost one of those games you have to win, dropping a 4-2 loss to the struggling Vancouver Canucks. Bolts coach Jon Cooper said the sort of things many were likely thinking.

“Just a self-inflicted loss is what it is,” Cooper said, according to Bryan Burns of the team site. ” … In the end, it’s a tough game not to get points out of, that’s for sure.”

There have been far too many of those for the Lightning lately, as they fall to 15-14-2 in a competitive Eastern Conference. The Lightning are now 2-6-1 in their last nine games, with optimism becoming tougher and tougher to come by.

Then again, the Canucks are in a spot where they might hand opponents some unexpected losses. This win began a four-game homestand for Vancouver, with a date against John Tortorella and the red-hot Blue Jackets on Sunday. Overall, they play nine of their next 11 games at home.

Maybe the Canucks will make this loss look a better in retrospect, but right now, it looks pretty bad. Besides, moral victories mean very little to a Tampa Bay team that needs every point it can get.

Elite eight: Blue Jackets beat Flames handily to keep streak going


The Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t just winning, they’re dominating.

Just look at Friday’s 4-1 win against the Calgary Flames. That’s their eighth consecutive win, and it’s not mere dumb luck; six of those eights victories have been by at least two goals. Maybe more impressively, they’re 13-1-2 in their last 16 games. Wow.

Playing fewer games that their peers muddles the Metropolitan Division, but the bottom line is that the Blue Jackets are right up there with the best:

1. Penguins – 44 points in 31 games played (after overtime loss to Kings)
2. Rangers – 43 points in 32 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 42 points in 28 GP
4. Capitals – 41 points in 29 GP (after shootout win against Hurricanes)
5. Flyers – 41 points in 32 GP

Columbus is also right up there with the elites as far as goal differential goes. After Friday’s win, they’re at +36, tied with the Rangers for the league’s best mark.

The scary thing for opponents is that you can’t really focus on one Blue Jackets player. Sergei Bobrovsky is the MVP, but as far as scoring goes, they’re getting goals from a wide variety of sources.

As an example, Sam Gagner is going from free agent afterthought to 13 goals, the current team lead. Zach Werenski continues to be as dominant as you’ll see a rookie defenseman, generating two assists to give him 20 points already in 2016-17.

(It’s possible that Werenski actually got the goal.)

Matt Calvert‘s 4-1 goal feels emblematic of the best moments so far for the Blue Jackets, moments that have been in remarkably steady supply:

This team just won’t be stopped.

Speaking of which, John Tortorella could win his 500th game as a coach and extend Columbus’ win streak to nine games against (wait for it) the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. Yeah, sometimes things just fall into place.

Hobbling Habs: Sven Andrighetto is hurt now, too

Friday was a bad night for the Montreal Canadiens, and not just because of a 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks that left Carey Price fuming.

Before the game, word surfaced that Andrew Shaw would be out Friday and Saturday due to concussion issues. Now it looks like Sven Andrighetto will miss Saturday’s game against the Washington Capitals, too, after the fall into the boards you can see in the video above.

Chris Terry‘s been recalled and Andrighetto won’t travel with the team, according to LNH.com’s Arpon Basu.

To recap, the Canadiens are now without Shaw, Andrighetto, David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk in their forward corps and Greg Pateryn on defense.

Montreal starts a potentially ruinous road stretch on Dec. 23, so as bad as this is right now, the Habs have to cross their fingers that some of those guys are at least going to return to the lineup soon.