James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Islanders give Stephen Gionta two-way deal, recall him from AHL

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NEW YORK (AP) The New York Islanders signed forward Stephen Gionta to a one-year, two-way contract Wednesday and recalled him from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League.

The 33-year-old Gionta had a goal and two assists in seven games for Bridgeport. Last season, he had a goal and 10 assists in 82 games for the New Jersey Devils. The former Boston College star has 15 goals and 35 assists in 270 career games, all with New Jersey.

The Islanders host Buffalo on Friday night.

Dreger says Jagr, Panthers are unsure about next season (and beyond)

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For some, every Jaromir Jagr milestone – most recently tying Mark Messier at No. 2 for points in NHL history – comes with anxiety over when he’ll stop putting up historic numbers.

Those people want to know “What’s next,” but neither Jagr nor the Florida Panthers expect to answer questions about the future during the 2016-17 season itself. That discussion will need to wait until later barring unforeseen circumstances, as Darren Dreger said on NBCSN tonight.

(Check out more on Jagr’s aims, serious or not, to play to age 50 in the video above.)

That wasn’t the only thing Dreger covered on Wednesday, as he also provided some injury updates, including not-so-optimistic rumblings about Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who was placed on IR.

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

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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

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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

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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.