James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Video: Crosby reminds us of his incredible hand-eye coordination

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Sidney Crosby came into Thursday’s action with 22 goals in just 27 games. Make that 23 (and possibly more) in 28.

He’s been scoring in a variety of ways this season, as you’d expect with such a fast start. Some of it comes down to puck luck – he began tonight with a 24 shooting percentage, compared to 14.8 for his career – but only some of it.

The rest? Just pure skill:

You know you’re on a hot streak when people sort of shrug their shoulders at that great goal, too:

To back up that point:

Chris Kreider views rest as a weapon

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It’s not the sort of slogan that will move a lot of “No Fear” t-shirts, but Chris Kreider‘s right in saying that “rest is a weapon.”

The New York Rangers have actually been pretty stout in back-to-back situations, but some on the team believed that their fatigue showed in a lopsided loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Either way, they’re relishing this opportunity to recover, as Kreider and Alain Vigneault (among others) told Newsday.

Vigneault also provided some interesting insight on resting veteran players vs. giving yourself the best chance to win.

“Right now, in my ideal world, in my division, it is crazy,” Vigneault said. “Just look. Nobody’s losing. So this resting thing, everybody’s trying to get in. You’ve got to play . . . what you feel is your best lineup.”

That balancing act is likely to remain a challenge. Take a look at the Rangers’ next month:

Dec. 23: vs. the Wild
Dec. 27: vs. the Senators
Dec. 29: at Coyotes
Dec. 31: at Avalanche
Jan. 3: vs. Sabres
Jan. 4: at Flyers
Jan. 7: at Blue Jackets
Jan. 13: vs. Maple Leafs
Jan. 14: at Canadiens
Jan. 17: vs. Stars
Jan. 19: at Maple Leafs
Jan. 22: at Red Wings
Jan. 23: vs. Kings

There are some nice opportunities for rest in there, yet there are also some pockets where Vigneault might face difficult questions of risk vs. reward.

Some might look at fatigue talk as merely making excuses, but in a league with profound parity – and in a division where no one “seems to lose” – every little edge counts.

It’s the sort of thought process that, for all we know, could make or break this season for New York.

Coyotes and Oilers: Not best friends

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With the Edmonton Oilers rising and the Arizona Coyotes sputtering (maybe for their long-term benefit), Edmonton winning 3-2 isn’t too big of a deal.

The mounting tensions between the two teams? That’s a little more interesting, or at least it makes for a better video.

Late in the contest, the Coyotes and Oilers got into a scrum after Oliver Ekman-Larsson delivered a hit on Matt Hendricks. Things devolved from there, as you can see in the clip above.

It’s unclear if OEL put a little more “mustard” on that hit because of Hendricks’ early check on Jakob Chychrun, which left the rookie shaken up:

The Oilers and Coyotes meet two more times this season: on Jan. 16 and Feb. 14. There’s a solid chance that the stakes will be higher for Edmonton than Arizona in one or both of those games, but those matchups will be at least a bit higher on the radar considering the possibility for bad blood.

‘That’s assault’ – Milbury says 2 games weren’t enough for Hoffman (Video)

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The NHL decided to hand Ottawa Senators forward Mike Hoffman a two-game suspension for cross-checking San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture. To NBCSN’s Mike Milbury, that wasn’t enough.

Milbury explains that, during his NHL days, that would have sparked a “bench-clearing brawl.” In his opinion, “that’s assault.”

You can watch Milbury’s entertaining take on the league decision ahead, including the worthwhile note that the Sharks almost certainly* won’t get a chance to avenge that infraction this season, in the video above.

* – Unless the two teams meet in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, which isn’t impossible, but still …

Flyers get extra point over Capitals in battle of red-hot Metro teams

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Just about everything was even between the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals on Wednesday. It makes sense that the Flyers won by such a narrow margin (3-2, via a shootout).

In both regulation and that shootout, the Flyers were forced to fight back from deficits. They did in both cases, fattening a one-point edge to a two-point margin over the Capitals for fourth place in the extremely competitive Metro Division.

As you can see from the way the standings and games played shake out, the Flyers needed this a bit more than the Capitals:

Metro Standings

1. Penguins – 47 points in 33 games played
2. Rangers – 47 points in 35 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 46 points in 30 GP
4. Flyers – 44 points in 35 GP
5. Capitals – 42 points in 31 GP

Similar trajectories

Again, the parallels between these two teams were only reinforced in this game. Both squads finished with 38 shots on goal, with Braden Holtby and Steve Mason generating some jaw-dropping stops.

The Flyers are now 11-1-1 over their last 13 games while the Capitals are on a similar path, including getting points in all but one of their last six games (6-1-1).

Andre Burakovsky responded to the challenge from the Capitals tonight: show us why we shouldn’t scratch you again. He factored into both Washington goals (one goal, one assist) to help them secure a point. Meanwhile, the Flyers enjoyed strong play from usual suspects like Claude Giroux (tying goal) and Jakub Voracek (an assist on Michael Raffl‘s barely-in tally).

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There are certain games where you can just feel that one team has the advantage. In others, it would be pretty difficult to miss which squad has the edge.

This one didn’t really fall into either of those categories. Instead, it was a remarkably even tug-of-war, but to the Flyers’ credit, they’ve shown a remarkable knack for winning that extra battle.