James O'Brien

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

Capitals flex their muscles, put Bruins in a tough spot

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The Washington Capitals dominated the month of January, leading the league in goals scored, standings points generated and goal differential. If Wednesday’s 5-3 win against the Boston Bruins is any indication, they might just dominate 2017.

While the score wasn’t especially lopsided, the Capitals looked like a juggernaut at times in their eighth consecutive home win.

As the headline states, Washington flexed its muscles, displaying some of the feats of strength that helped them race ahead of the rest of the NHL:

  • One of the league’s best one-two punches at center showed up in a big way. Nicklas Backstrom scored one goal and collected two assists, including a beautiful saucer to set up a T.J. Oshie breakaway goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov was a menace in the latter stages of the game, generating a goal and assist of his own.
  • The Capitals also have that Alex Ovechkin guy, who remains a machine from “his office” on the power play. He scored his 550th career NHL regular season goal on the man advantage.
  • Braden Holtby was pretty sharp, especially at even-strength, stopping 28 of 29 there (while Brad Marchand scored two power-play goals). The workhorse goalie is on a four-game winning streak.
  • The other team needed it more. It didn’t matter.

On that note, the Bruins … yeah, they’re in trouble. Sure, they’re technically in the playoffs as of Wednesday, yet games in hand make you think that this is a dire situation.

Atlantic Division rankings (skipping Montreal because c’mon)

2. Senators – 58 points in 48 games
3. Bruins – 58 points in 54 games

Maple Leafs – 55 points in 48 games
Panthers – 54 points in 51 games
Lightning – 50 in 51
Sabres – 49 in 49
Red Wings – 49 in 50

Really, the Bruins can’t ignore the race for the second wild card spot, either. Anyway, the point is that the Bruins could have at least used a point from this one. Unfortunately, this game came against the Caps, so no dice.

If the loss wasn’t bad enough, it seemed like Tuukka Rask was shaken up by stretching out for a late save while Patrice Bergeron‘s return from a puck to the knee wasn’t totally convincing.

Uh oh, Part 1:

Part 2:

Long story short, the Bruins have plenty to worry about. And the rest of the NHL should absolutely be concerned about the rise of the Capitals.

WATCH LIVE: Colorado Avalanche at Los Angeles Kings

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All of a sudden, the Western Conference’s wild card picture is muddy and congested.

At 54 standings points, the Los Angeles Kings are in the playoffs as of right now, but their margin of error is tiny:

Kings – 54 points in 50 games
Blues – 53 in 50

Flames – 53 in 52
Canucks – 52 in 50
Stars – 52 in 51
Jets – 52 in 53

Yeah, that’s not much breathing room. Wit the Avalanche quite clearly weighing in as the NHL’s worst team (at least at the moment), this is one of those nights the Kings could really regret if they don’t come to play.

With the Pacific’s top three teams 8-10 points ahead of the Kings, it’s all about Los Angeles holding off the other bubble teams. Every night counts, even against lesser opponents like Colorado.

You can watch on NBCSN, online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

 

Video: Patrice Bergeron helped off the ice after puck to the knee

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The Boston Bruins have been a pretty top-heavy team at times this season, so they have to been especially concerned if Patrice Bergeron was injured during Wednesday’s game against the Washington Capitals.

Bergeron was struck in the knee by a puck in the third period, needing help to get off the ice.

We’ve seen cases where a player comes back soon after a scare only to miss time after all, so this is still a situation to monitor, but the good news is that Bergeron returned not all that long after leaving. He only missed a few minutes of game time.

Again, this doesn’t guarantee that Bergeron avoided injury, yet it’s better than him calling it a night.

After the game, things became less optimistic for Bergeron and the Bruins, who may have also seen Tuukka Rask get injured.

Brad Marchand is playing, so he keeps scoring (Video)

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If Brad Marchand‘s actions – er, hockey plays – weren’t enough to agitate his opponents, the polarizing Boston Bruins winger also happens to be scoring at a dizzying rate.

There’s still a period and change remaining in Wednesday’s game against the Washington Capitals, and Marchand already extended his multi-point streak to four straight games with two goals. CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty notes that he also has 13 goals in his past 15 games.

It’s been quite the stretch for the NHL’s second star of January.

Both Marchand goals came on the power play, pushing him to 23 tallies in 2016-17. You can see the first goal in the video above this post’s headline and the second below.

More on Marchand

No discipline for Marchand stemming from his trip on Anton Stralman; Marchand calls it just a hockey play.

He did receive a $10K fine for a “dangerous trip” on Niklas Kronwall, however. He’s aware of his status as a controversial figure.

Video: Nicklas Backstrom’s slick saucer pass is the star of T.J. Oshie’s goal

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Nicklas Backstrom set up T.J. Oshie for the hockey equivalent to an alley oop, though the degree of difficulty was higher.

For one thing, Oshie had so much time, it almost would have been understandable if he flubbed it. It’s like a basketball player who is so open you wonder that the shot will end in a brick.

The real treat of this clip is the assist, as Backstrom took advantage of a Brad Marchand turnover to send a beautiful saucer pass through a small window of two Boston Bruins.

It’s one of those moments that hockey nerds will particularly enjoy, a subtle display of skill that makes a more obvious slam-dunk moment happen.

(Phew, that’s a lot of analogies to other sports. Sorry.)

Here’s the moment itself, as it’s probably worth seeing in isolation:

Backstrom now has 36 assists, second only to Connor McDavid. It’s easy to see why thanks to moments like these.

It was a strong first period overall for Backstrom, who added a goal: