James O'Brien

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

Plea to NHL: You can nix the All-Star Game, just keep skills competition

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During Saturday’s edition of Sportsnet’s Headlines (see video above), Chris Johnston reported that the NHL and NHLPA discussed the notion of “scrapping” the All-Star Game.

Johnston’s report gets a little fuzzier from there, as he goes into how the NHL wants to make more of a concerted effort to grow the game in Europe.* For all we know, the league might just want to bring some sort of modified All-Star weekend overseas. It seems like this is all in an early gestation period; Johnston said that more talks are expected to happen.

Beyond that, there wasn’t really a timeline specified, even if something significant does happen.

So, in case that wasn’t clear: it’s too early to say that All-Star Games will be no more.

Let’s assume that such a measure will be taken, though.

If that happens, allow PHT to beg for fellow hockey fans: whatever you do, don’t get rid of the glorious spectacle that is the skills competition.

(Heck, you can have one night for more normal stuff like the hardest shot and another for odder events.)

Seriously, aside from John Scott’s storybook experience, which moments do you remember most vividly? From Al Iafrate’s skullet to players aiming at hilariously small nets to Alex Ovechkin‘s goofy costumes and moments of friendship with Evgeni Malkin, chances are those great times came during a skills competition.

Also, any chance to get Sidney Crosby vs. Connor McDavid (or vs. Auston Matthews … or vs. Alex Ovechkin) at anything is probably in the best interest of the NHL/sports/humanity:

Honestly, NHL execs, you already broke a lot of hearts by getting rid of the fantasy draft process where players basically roasted each other. That experience was about 10 times more entertaining than your typical All-Star exhibition where the main goals are (understandably) to not get hurt or embarrassed.

Actually, this brings up the best idea of all: Phil Kessel hosting an All-Star hot dog eating contest.

Anyway, the NHL and NHLPA still have a long way to go before we see the end of the All-Star Game. Let’s just hope they don’t lose sight of the big picture, which just so happens to revolve around miniature nets.

* – During that same segment, Elliotte Friedman reported that the Edmonton Oilers would love to participate in games in China. One can picture Connor McDavid creating new fans there, right?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Jakub Voracek’s assist was straight out of a video game (Video)

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When you torch a team 8-2 like the Philadelphia Flyers did to the Washington Capitals in Philly’s home-opener, you’re going to stack up some impressive highlights.

Even so, it seems appropriate to take a step back and just gape in awe at the borderline-obscene work from Jakub Voracek, who undressed helpless Caps defenders before setting up Wayne Simmonds‘ goal.

You can see that absurd display of skill in the video above, although it might be even more fun to watch via the Flyers’ funky GIF, which practically begs for cheesy DJ scratching sound effects:

Goodness. That’s how you begin a five-game homestand.

While we’re sharing some Saturday highlights, a bit that will provide mixed feelings for the Flyers fans still in the room.

The good: James Reimer deprived the Pittsburgh Penguins of a goal with some beautiful work in net.

The bad, for Flyers and Panthers fans: Pittsburgh still beat Reimer and the Florida Panthers 4-3 on Saturday.

Finally, here is Jonathan Quick adding to the Buffalo Sabres’ frustrations with this save, contributing to the Los Angeles Kings’ 4-2 win:

Quick deserves a spare moment of recognition for his quietly strong start to the season, matching the Kings’ 3-0-1 opening record. He has a shutout, has only allowed seven goals in four games, and sports an impressive .943 save percentage.

(Most of those stops were probably by a wider margin than the save above.)

For a recap of Saturday’s events, be sure to check out The Buzzer.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Golden Knights lost more than just first game vs. Red Wings: Fleury goes to IR

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One of this early season’s best stories might have hit a serious snag.

The Vegas Golden Knights recently announced that Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Marchessault have been placed on IR. Goalie Maxime Lagace and forward Alex Tuch were called up from the AHL in their absence.

As this oddly adorable update notes, Erik Haula is also out of action, opening the door for intriguing KHL import Vadim Shipachyov:

This most likely opens the door for an intriguing storyline on Sunday: could we see Malcolm Subban face the Boston Bruins not that long after the team waived him?

That’s kind of fun, but seeing “The Flower” get injured is a tough pill to swallow after the Detroit Red Wings handed them their first-ever loss (6-3 on Friday). Even with that tough game, Fleury’s early Vegas numbers sparkle: 3-1-0 with a strong .925 save percentage.

Place that on top of being an early “face of the franchise” and this injury hurts. This was almost certainly the moment that Fleury got hurt. (Update: Sportsnet shared video of the event; see above this post’s headline.)

(In case you’re wondering, Lagace seems like a pretty marginal 24-year-old netminder, at least judging by a glance at his numbers at lower levels.)

If Subban has a rough Sunday, there might be a least a couple murmurs about the organization letting Calvin Pickard get lost in the shuffle, eventually falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade that felt like just a small step up from losing him for nothing.

It’s possible that Haula got hurt thanks to this fight with Tomas Tatar:

All things considered, it seems like the Golden Knights lost in more ways than one against the Red Wings on Friday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Coyotes coach was embarrassed by loss to Bruins; More trouble looms ahead

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Following a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet apologized to fans for an “embarrassing” second period. That was the time that game got away from them, as a 1-1 tie swung to a 4-1 advantage for Boston.

Really, though, it wouldn’t be surprising if Tocchet was actually apologizing for the growing pains that come with an 0-4-1 start for a team that enjoyed what seemed like an excellent summer of moves.

Here’s the full presser, via the Coyotes:

Seeing Zdeno Chara come in all alone to put in a rebound probably didn’t make Tocchet very happy:

AZ Sports’ Craig Morgan caught up with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who explained what happened on the next goal, which came on a Brad Marchand breakaway.

“I was just trying to get the puck and that’s just the way it goes,” said Ekman-Larsson, who is a team-worst minus-9. “We’re down 3-1 so you kind of look for some good breaks and it goes that way instead. I was cheating a little bit. You have to give the guy credit. He knew I was going to do that.”

Morgan’s detail stands out; as reviled as plus/minus can be as a stat, and as potent as “OEL” can be on the power play, a -9 does indeed make you cringe.

As important as it is to point out that Louis Domingue, not newly acquired Antti Raanta, has been in the net for much of the Coyotes’ struggles, there are plenty of goals that come down to flat-out awful defense. To some extent, that might be systemic, as Tocchet & Co. will need to accept the good and the bad that comes with utilizing scoring defensemen to attack opponents. Much like with the struggling Buffalo Sabres, it may also take some time for a new coach to sort things out with a lot of young players.

On the bright side, there are some early returns for young players who could play a role in turning this around … eventually. Calder candidate Clayton Keller leads the Coyotes with three goals and ties Max Domi for the team lead with four points in five games.

Here’s the bad news: their schedule only gets tougher to close out October.

Tue, Oct 17 @ Dallas
Thu, Oct 19 vs Dallas
Sat, Oct 21 vs Chicago
Tue, Oct 24 @ NY Islanders
Thu, Oct 26 @ NY Rangers
Sat, Oct 28 @ New Jersey
Mon, Oct 30 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 31 @ Detroit

With the Blackhawks continuing to find ways to win and the Stars possibly getting back on track, the next three games stand as a serious challenge. After that, a five-game road trip could really test the mettle of a group that’s already likely dealing with shaken confidence.

Consider that the Coyotes have lost two: the Vegas Golden Knights twice, a banged-up Ducks team, a fast-starting but still doubted Red Wings group, and an up-and-down Bruins team.

There’s the scary possibility that the Coyotes may still see a zero at the beginning of their record come November.

Also scary: that November schedule, which includes a stretch with seven of eight road games from Nov. 6-20.

Yikes.

Then again, sometimes teams bond during tough stretches. Just about every NHL team needs to navigate big bumps in the road during a season, so the Coyotes can only explain things away so much before such reasons merely sound like excuses.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Coyle, Niederreiter headline a disastrous Wild injury report

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Last night, Bruce Boudreau raved about how the Minnesota Wild beat the Chicago Blackhawks despite dealing with serious injuries.

They might need to get used to that feeling.

The Wild shared an utterly disastrous injury report on Friday.

(Brace yourself, Wild fans.)

Good grief, that list is just … wow.

The Wild estimate that Nino Niederreiter will miss a minimum of three weeks. Charlie Coyle already underwent surgery, and Minnesota expects his window of recovery to be six-to-eight weeks. Marcus Foligno is ruled out for at least one week with a facial fracture.

Honestly, those Niederreiter and Foligno issues could be worse than those minimums make them seem, too.

This team is already dealing with Mikael Granlund‘s issues (probably a groin injury) and Zach Parise (he insists it’s not a back issue), which might sideline them for a while considering the murky nature of day-to-day updates.

At 1-1-1, the Wild are three games into a road-heavy start (three of five away from home), and then they’ll begin a six-game homestand on Oct. 24. The team already expects to be shorthanded on Saturday, their home-opener.

“What a great challenge,” Boudreau said on Thursday. “If we can come away from this in a good frame, that’s great. You have to accept challenges, and this is a real big challenge early on in the year.”

That Boudreau comment came yesterday; one can almost picture a profanity-laced, HBO 24/7-esque rant about this today, though.

Foligno and Coyle were two-thirds of a top line with Eric Staal, while Niederreiter joined Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker to form a nice second trio. The Wild are likely going to lean more on those guys, not to mention Joel Eriksson Ek, Tyler Ennis, and maybe even Matt Cullen.

If nothing else, Boudreau is the sort of coach who might be able to rally Minny through this challenging stretch. The Wild can also look to their Central Division rivals, the St. Louis Blues, for an example of a team fighting through a tough start.

But yeah, this is brutal stuff.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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