James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Niklas Kronwall wonders if knee will ever be pain-free

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Every now and then, there’s an article that pops up that makes you a little worried about the Detroit Red Wings’ record playoff streak.

Maybe the biggest issue is the “D” in Detroit. Far too many important blueliners seem to be dealing with nagging injuries that may never go away.

(Let the bleakness of that thought sink in for a moment.)

Not that long ago, Jonathan Ericsson acknowledged his ongoing hip-related struggles. Fellow Swede and Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall spins a similarly sad story.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be pain-free, but hopefully, I’ll be able to be out there in a position where it doesn’t bite as much,” Kronwall said to the Detroit Free-Press.

“The surgery that was talked about was something that probably wouldn’t be the best idea if I wanted to play again.”

Yikes.

To recap, Kronwall and Ericsson both seem like they’re adjusting to the reality that they’ll rarely – if ever – feel “100 percent.” That’s $10 million in cap space wrapped up in banged-up defensemen … and Mike Green‘s injury history doesn’t inspire much optimism, either.

Combine those issues with all the mileage Henrik Zetterberg has accrued and the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, and you start to wonder how long Detroit can keep this up.

Don’t take this as a burial by any means; betting against the Red Wings is a foolish gamble.

(Just watch Dylan Larkin speed around the ice for a few shifts and it’ll be a lot easier to find positives.)

Still, it’s not the greatest sign when Kronwall and Ericsson aren’t even providing the usual positive spin during the off-season.

Russia squeaks by North America in thriller

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If Russia’s eventual 4-3 win against North America doesn’t stand as the most thrilling game of the World Cup, then we’re in for some special hockey.

The Air Canada Centre was rocking tonight, especially during North America’s bid for a third period comeback.

From that beautiful Connor McDavidAuston Matthews goal to a wave of dangerous chances, the North Americans carried much of this contest. Sergei Bobrovsky kept that under-23 group at bay just enough for Russia’s first win of the round-robin tournament.

Ultimately, it came down to a second-period collapse where Matt Murray allowed four troubling goals before John Gibson took over:

The remarkable thing about this tournament is that, all of a sudden, North America is in a tougher spot after this loss. They face quite a challenge in Sweden on Wednesday while Russia’s next game comes against an up-and-down Finnish squad.

For many hockey fans, it’s difficult to accept the possibility that Team North America may not last much longer.

Thanks a lot, Bob.

Jackpot: Vegas expansion team sells out season tickets

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It still feels a little surreal that there’s really going to be an NHL team in Las Vegas, but Bill Foley & Co. continue to hit some significant milestones.

They’ve already put together a big chunk of their front office, bringing in experienced executives including GM George McPhee.

Of course, money talks, and they’ve been showing promise in that area as well. The [Blank] Knights have already sold out the 16,000 season tickets made available, as the team announced.

“This is a truly historic event for the Las Vegas community, the NHL and all of our fans,” Owner Bill Foley said. “I would like to thank everyone who has supported and continues to support our efforts to make the Las Vegas NHL franchise a success.”

Well, they still have a ways to go to be an on-ice success, but it’s tough to beat up Foley too much for tooting his horn here.

So far, so very good for the NHL in Sin City.

Aside: did the headline get this song in your head?

Video: McDavid to Matthews goal is as great as you’d expect

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Every now and then, we get a break from debating the relative merits of Justin Abdelkader and Dustin Byfuglien and just get to watch something exhilarating.

It didn’t take Team North America very long to provide another pinch-yourself moment, as Connor McDavid roasted Pavel Datsyuk (!) to set up Auston Matthews for a blistering 1-0 goal against Russia.

You can see it in the video above; allow us to recommend watching it over and over again.

Once Toronto Maple Leafs fans got past the initial rush of seeing that goal, they would likely also enjoy noting that this was Matthews’ first goal at the Air Canada Centre.

There’s really a lot to take in, including Matthews and McDavid combining for that tally with Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin on the ice for Russia.

(Some are even making hasty Wayne Gretzky to Mario Lemieux comparisons.)

Perhaps North America will slow down as the World Cup goes on, but either way, this blistering collecting of talent is already providing a beautiful vision of a hopeful hockey future.

Update: Aaron Ekblad deals with ‘mild’ concussion

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Update: Aaron Ekblad is dealing with a “mild concussion,” according to reporters including ESPN’s Craig Custance.

Team North America GM Peter Chiarelli would only say he’s day-to-day during Sportsnet’s second intermission of tonight’s game against Russia.

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Tough news for North America and the Florida Panthers: Aaron Eklbad cannot play against Russia because of an upper-body injury.

North America at least has a nice option in reserve, as Jacob Trouba takes Ekblad’s place.

The belief (according to onlookers including Postmedia’s Michael Traikos) is that Ekblad was injured thanks to a Leo Komarov hit. You can actually see the moment of contact in the photo above, as Ekblad is almost lost in the mass of humanity.

Stephanie “My Regular Face” also has the GIF of the hit that may have hurt Ekblad:

Neither Team North America nor the Panthers have provided any additional information regarding how serious Ekblad’s upper-body injury is, at least beyond sidelining for at least this game.

If it’s significant, this is another bullet point for GMs who may argue against the World Cup of Hockey becoming a fixture.