James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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David Backes’ goal in return to St. Louis: Try not to cry

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When someone returns to a familiar city on a new team, many wonder: will that guy cry during the tribute video? Admit it, you wondered even when stone-faced Shea Weber played his first game against the Predators in Nashville.

David Backes told NHL.com that he’s going to try to fight it, but he might need a “full Gatorade towel” stashed on the bench as he returns to face the St. Louis Blues as a member of the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.

“It’s certainly a date that when you leave, you look forward to, you circle on your calendar,” Backes said. “A myriad of emotions of playing your old teammates, seeing old familiar faces, being in old familiar stomping grounds.”

The Blues are even running their charity event “Barkin’ for the Blues,” which Backes started with his wife, for Jan .10 specifically so he could be involved. With that in mind, he’ll have family at the game, prompting some “wedding day” comparisons for the former Blues captain.

As far as his former teammates go, the Blues say it will – eventually – be like business as usual once the puck drops on Tuesday.

Try telling that to Backes, though. Heck, the team basically provided a tribute video once he signed elsewhere.

More on the departure itself here.

Letestu lands OT winner, Oilers smother Hall and Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Mark Letestu scored a power-play goal at 3:59 of overtime and Cam Talbot stopped 19 shots as the Edmonton Oilers beat the New Jersey Devils 2-1 on Saturday night.

Matthew Benning also scored his first NHL goal for the Oilers who improved to 6-1-2 in the last nine.

Cory Schneider made 41 saves and Miles Wood scored for the Devils.

The Devils’ Travis Zajac was whistled for slashing Connor McDavid with 2:19 remaining on the clock in the extra period, putting Edmonton on the power play. The Oilers converted for the victory on Letestu’s shot from the top of the left circle.

The game featured the first meeting of the clubs since the summer trade that sent defenseman Adam Larsson to Edmonton for left wing Taylor Hall.

Larsson has been a major contributor as Edmonton makes a strong bid reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Hall leads the Devils in scoring despite missing 10 games due to injury. Even with Hall’s contribution, New Jersey has been languishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Wood scored the only goal of the opening period as the Devils escaped with the lead despite being outshot 16-7.

The Oilers dominated the early play, using their speed to pepper Schneider with shots. He held his ground, fending off bids from McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl as the Oilers piled up an 11-3 shots advantage.

It was a solid rebound effort by Schneider, who was yanked in the first period of Friday’s 4-2 loss to Toronto after giving up three goals on only five shots.

Wood turned on the jets and sped around defenseman Eric Gryba to tuck a backhander between Talbot’s pads at 9:44.

The Devils continued to cling to the goal lead through the second period even though the Oilers unloaded another 14 shots on Schneider.

Schneider stretch across to deny McDavid’s wraparound bid early in the period and later blocked Letestu’s rebound blast.

At the other end, Talbot faced a few challenges sparked by Hall who set up PA Parenteau for a testing shot, and fired his own drive from left circle that was turned away with a pad save.

The relentless Oilers pressure finally paid off as Benning scored at 3:33 of the third period on Edmonton’s 32nd shot. Matt Hendricks, screening in front of the net, was initially credited with the tally on the point that slipped by Schneider.

Adam Henrique had a golden opportunity from the slot to give the Devils a lead with two minutes left, only to be robbed by Talbot.

NOTES: The game concluded a busy stretch at the Prudential Center with the Devils playing here Friday and Saturday nights. Sandwiched in between was Seton Hall hosting DePaul on Saturday afternoon. . New Jersey placed C Jacob Josefson on injured reserve due to illness and recalled D Yohann Auvitu from Albany (AHL). Auvitu suffered a lower-body injury early in first period and did not return. .. Devils saluted Larsson with a video-board tribute during a first-period stop in play.

UP NEXT:

Oilers: Conclude a four-game road trip in Ottawa on Sunday.

Devils: Host Florida on Monday.

Flames end Canucks’ winning streak at 6, Chad Johnson gets back on track

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It doesn’t get much sweeter than this for Chad Johnson and the Calgary Flames. At least in early January.

The Vancouver Canucks had been on a six-game winning streak while Johnson lost his last four starts. Both of those trends ended on Saturday as Calgary beat its rivals 3-1.

Heck, they even had moments where one Flame hit another Canuck hard enough to turn his helmet into shrapnel. These are the types of wins that Canucks-hating Flames fans probably dream of.

Johnson only allowed a Bo Horvat goal, a sharp turn from his work during that four-game skid when he allowed 15 goals. Brian Elliott then wrestled away the top job with a four-game winning streak that just concluded … and now the door’s open, at least a bit.

Really, the Flames have to be happy for the debate to have a far more positive tone. It sure beats the early season feeling of “How many goalies do we need to bring in until someone starts to actually stop pucks?”

With this win, the Flames have 46 points in 42 games played while the Canucks have 42 in 43. So, even in the bigger picture race of positioning, this outcome is pretty sweet for Calgary.

Marchand, Rask shine as Bruins blank Panthers

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Brad Marchand scored two goals, Tuukka Rask had 25 saves and the Boston Bruins beat the Florida Panthers 4-0 on Saturday night.

Riley Nash and David Backes also scored, helping the Bruins improve to 4-0 against the Panthers this season. Rask got his fifth shutout of the season.

Florida’s James Reimer made 33 saves in his fourth straight start. Roberto Luongo, who missed Friday’s 2-1 victory against Nashville with an upper-body injury, is day to day.

The Panthers have lost six of their last eight games.

Marchand’s second goal made it 3-0 at 9:40 of the second. Torey Krug‘s power-play shot from the high slot was blocked, but Marchand swept in the rebound.

Marchand, who leads Boston with 12 goals and 34 points, also had a short-handed goal at 12:48 of the first. He grabbed the puck from Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle, skated in, and backhanded the puck between Reimer’s glove and the post.

The Bruins went ahead 2-0 when Backes tipped in a shot from David Krejci at 4:13 of the second. Backes missed the previous three games with a concussion.

Nash poked in the puck off Reimer’s body and into the net at 4:59 of the third.

NOTES: Panthers F Greg McKegg left in the second period with an upper-body injury. … Florida C Nick Bjugstad will miss two weeks with a lower-body injury. … Panthers D Aaron Ekblad played in his 200th NHL game. … The Panthers recalled goaltender Sam Brittain from the Manchester Monarchs of the ECHL to back up Reimer. … The Bruins recalled Zane McIntyre from Providence of the AHL to back up Rask. McIntyre has played in three games this season (0-2-0).

UP NEXT

Bruins: Visit Carolina on Sunday.

Panthers: Visit New Jersey on Monday.

Video: Sbisa hit so hard trainers pulled pieces of helmet off his head

You know you’ve encountered a hard hit when the resulting mess of a helmet is described in at least one place as “shrapnel.”

That seemed appropriate enough for what amounted to Vancouver Canucks defenseman Luca Sbisa‘s lid after a hard hit by Garnet Hathaway of the Calgary Flames.

Watch the heavy impact and truly bizarre “clean-up” job in the video above. This GIF also captures the Canucks staffer cleaning the helmet fragments from Sbisa’s scalp. Weird/gross.

Usually people utter the phrase “Poor Sbisa” in reaction to others criticizing Sbisa for a bad play or for something that maybe is not all his fault. This time, it is a purer pity, as that looked painful.