James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Trade: Canadiens pay low price to nab Nikita Nesterov from Lightning

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The Montreal Canadiens made a nice trade on Thursday, adding some defensive depth by acquiring Nikita Nesterov from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Jonathan Racine and a sixth-round pick in 2017.

Nesterov’s enjoyed the best season of his young career, setting a personal best with 12 points despite playing in just 35 games with the Bolts. His possession stats are pretty nice, although it’s worth mentioning that he’s had a very sheltered role in Tampa Bay. (More than two-thirds of his shifts have begun in the offensive zone.)

You can quibble with Nesterov on a higher-level, but he’s a depth guy with some potential to maybe be even more than that to the Canadiens.

The Lightning get that sixth-rounder and Racine. The 23-year-old was the 87th pick of the 2011 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers.

He seems like he can bring some grit to the table, considering his penalty minute numbers in the AHL, peaking with 149 in 70 games in 2014-15. Racine hasn’t really shown much offensive ability, however.

Montreal seems to get the better of this trade, even if you might equate this to a mere line-drive single in baseball.

It appears to be a straightforward trade with no salary retained:

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild

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Not that long ago, it was the St. Louis Blues who were in the thick of the Central Division title races while the Minnesota Wild were just fighting for a playoff spot. This season, it looks like those roles have been reversed.

The Wild are currently in a great spot to win the Central, but winning a game like this would only fatten their lead over Chicago.

The Blues haven’t been happy with their play lately, yet they did just shut out the Penguins and are currently in the West’s first wild card spot. They’re more accustomed to having a larger margin of error in late January, but they’re also not out of the mix, either.

With motivation on both sides, this should be an interesting one on NBCSN tonight.

You can watch the preview and game online and also via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Oilers sink Ducks, set up interesting test against Pacific-leading Sharks

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The Edmonton Oilers did the San Jose Sharks a bit of a favor by beating the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. Maybe they’ll say thanks when the Oilers and Sharks meet tomorrow?

Regardless, it was an impressive showing by Edmonton, handily winning the sort of “low-event” contest few associate with the Oilers. It wasn’t close on the scoreboard, either, as they beat Anaheim 4-0.

The battle for the Pacific Division crown remains tight, as all three of the top teams are in the running:

1. Sharks – 64 points in 49 games
2. Ducks – 63 points in 51 games
3. Oilers – 62 points in 50 games

Leon Draisaitl was one of the standouts, scoring two goals (including the 1-0 game-winner). Zack Kassian showed a little burst on what was probably the prettiest tally of the contest:

Nifty.

Cam Talbot continues to be lights-out in January, turning aside all 26 Ducks for a shutout. Here’s one of his best saves:

Fans can debate if it’s appropriate to call this a “statement game,” but it’s pretty reasonable to say that the Oilers look like they’re very likely to make the playoffs. Nights like tonight and Thursday’s test against the Sharks may merely specify where they fit in.

Canucks hold off Avalanche, move into West’s top eight

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Wednesday’s been a strong night for teams trying to climb back into the playoff picture.

First, the Philadelphia Flyers dislodged the Boston Bruins for the East’s second wild card spot with a tight win against the New York Rangers.

The Vancouver Canucks followed a similar path, needing to sweat it against the Colorado Avalanche, but now they’re back in the West’s second wild card spot after edging Colorado 3-2.

Let’s take a look at the wild card races in the West:

Blues – 53 points in 48 games played
Canucks – 52 points in 49 GP
Flames – 51 points in 51 GP
Kings – 48 points in 50 GP
Stars – 49 points in 48 GP
Jets – 48 points in 51 GP

Vancouver doesn’t have a huge margin of error, yet that’s still a positive situation, especially for a team that many pegged to be the worst in the NHL at times in 2016-17.

Instead, the Avalanche solidified their place as the sad sack of the West and NHL overall.

To be fair, Colorado’s actually pushed its opponents recently. They did so on Wednesday, erasing a 2-0 deficit. It just wasn’t enough, as Sven Baertschi’s second goal of the night and 13th of the season made the difference.

Mason silences Rangers, Flyers move ahead of Bruins for last wild card spot

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If Steve Mason puts together more nights like these, the Philadelphia Flyers might not need to worry that much about securing a wild card spot.

Mason’s 34-save shutout powered Philly’s 2-0 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, pushing the Flyers ahead of the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot thanks to games in hand:

Flyers – 54 points in 49 games
Bruins – 54 points in 51 games

(The Florida Panthers lead the rest of the bubble with 50 points, while everyone else has 49. See the full standings here.)

The Rangers remain well above the fray in the first wild card spot with 63 points in 49 games, yet Wednesday’s loss had to be frustrating.

The game remained scoreless through two periods even as the Rangers managed a resounding 27-16 shot advantage. Philly took the third with the game’s only two goals and a slight 10-7 shot edge, however.

Wayne Simmmonds’ 20th goal was very, well, Wayne Simmonds. It stood as the game-winner:

It would probably be hasty to put too much of this loss on Henrik Lundqvist, though it likely slows at least some of his recent momentum … and there was no doubt which goalie was the star of this one.

When asked by Pierre McGuire if he felt like there was a specific moment when he felt “in the zone,” Mason said it actually started with his win against the Islanders a few days ago, when he stopped 36 out of 38 shots.

As up-and-down as this season has been for Mason and the Flyers, you may recall how impressive both the goalie and team looked during their 10-game winning streak.

Perhaps this is the beginning of another big push?