James O'Brien

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

Ovechkin-blaming is especially silly this time around


Let’s be honest … there’s only so much one can do to stop the same old stories from gathering momentum.

For plenty, Alex Ovechkin will always be a “choker” unless he wins a Stanley Cup, something that was certainly mentioned after Pittsburgh’s 4-3 OT win against Washington.

Just about anyone who watched this Capitals – Penguins series likely realizes that Ovechkin wasn’t the problem for Washington, though.

Even if you ignore massive shot attempt and hits numbers, Ovechkin produced at an impressive level.

He generated two assists in Game 6 and collected seven points during this six-game series. He also managed 12 points in as many 2016 playoff games.

(His career is impressive overall: 82 points in 84 playoff games.)

Still, some just won’t be able to resist the urge to needle Ovechkin and his supporters.

If you’re just aching to blame someone, there are other places to look …

Perhaps Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves some scorn for a quiet stream of playoff games, although one can only wonder if an injury might explain his precipitous drop.

Brooks Orpik could conceivably be fitted for goat horns after getting suspended for three games and then being guilty of the high-sticking double-minor that opened the door for two Penguins power play goals.

And, hey, Barry Trotz has been around forever but has never advanced beyond the second round …

Is any of this fair? Not really, but that’s the point.

Instead of focusing on the negatives, you could also pivot to the winning team. That Matt Murray kid turned out to be quite the story, right? The Penguins produced 16 goals in this series thanks to the work of Nick Bonino and Ovechkin’s scapegoated cousin Phil Kessel.

Unfortunately for Ovechkin, moments like these will stick with plenty of people, even though he enjoyed a great run:

Nick of time: Bonino scores OT-winner as Penguins bounce Capitals


The Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t have envisioned it happening this way. Who could?

Pittsburgh coughed up a 3-0 lead in Game 6 as the Washington Capitals just wouldn’t go down easy. The Penguins continued to hammer and hammer, however, and Nick Bonino scored the 4-3 overtime game-winner.

With that, the Penguins advanced to the third round to face the Tampa Bay Lightning while the Capitals face another summer of soul-searching.

Bonino really was a fitting scorer. The Penguins didn’t get a ton of production from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, yet guys like Phil Kessel and Bonino helped Pittsburgh patch up four wins against their rivals.

Again, the Capitals did not go down without a fight. Braden Holtby made some enormous saves, although Jay Beagle stole the show in that regard:

Seriously, that Capitals comeback was something many hockey fans will remember for years, even if it ultimately fell short.

Capitals send Game 6 to OT after Penguins’ penalty parade


If you counted out the Washington Capitals after they went down 3-0, well, you’re in for a shock.

The Capitals chipped away at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lead and managed to tie it up 3-3 late in Game 6, but not without some controversy.

Granted, the NHL’s delay of game penalty for sending a puck over the glass is pretty cut-and-dried.

It’s also one of the most reviled rules in the league.

The Capitals received plenty of 5-on-3 opportunities, with John Carlson finally connecting for the tying tally.

Kris Letang was also whistled for a penalty after a hard hit on T.J. Oshie, which inspired some discussion mainly because people believe that there was some interference on Carl Hagelin during that same sequence.

Overtime should be very, very interesting.

Video: Kessel’s slick shot opens scoring in Game 6


We’re deep into that time where plays, shots and goals can get over-analyzed.

So feel free to pour over the 1-0 goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins and ask: is this more about a sweet Phil Kessel release (and screen) or Braden Holtby allowing one of those goals “He would like back.”

(Goalies probably want every goal back and all.)

The biggest quibble seems to be that Holtby was beaten on his short side.

Stopping Kessel can be filed under “Easier said than done.”

The Penguins carried a 1-0 lead into the intermission as the Washington Capitals face elimination in Game 6.

Update: Kessel scored a second goal as the Penguins went up 3-0 after scoring two power-play goals on a double-minor high-sticking infraction by Brooks Orpik.

Yes, Maatta is back for the Penguins in Game 6


Brooks Orpik is returning for Game 6, and so is the guy he injured.

The Pittsburgh Penguins confirmed the anticipated on Tuesday, as it appears that Olli Maatta will take Justin Schultz‘s place in the lineup as Pittsburgh hopes to close out the Washington Capitals.

Of course, the biggest question is: how close to 100 percent will Maatta be? Right now, the guess is “close enough.”

It’s been a bumpy season for the 21-year-old, but the bottom line is that he’s a key member of the Penguins blueline. We’ll see how he fares in this important contest.