James O'Brien

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

Sharks strengthen Pacific lead, end Kings’ streak at five

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The NHL’s only substantial winning streak is over, as the San Jose Sharks ended the Los Angeles Kings’ run at five games.

In beating the Kings 4-1 on Wednesday, the Sharks now lead the Pacific Division by three points and are only three points behind the Blackhawks for the top spot in the West.

They’ve been on a very nice run of their own, winning five of six; their only loss during this span came via a 3-2 defeat to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

“I feel we’re finding our stride,” Logan Couture said, according to CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz. “Inconsistent at the start, but I think we’re playing some of our better hockey right now.”

The Sharks enjoyed a two-goal performance from Logan Couture alongside Ryan Carpenter’s first NHL tally and the second of Kevin Labanc‘s career.

Martin Jones was also sharp, though he had some help from the likes of Brent Burns:

The Sharks get to play three of their next four at home. After visiting the Coyotes in Arizona tomorrow, the Kings get a three-game homestand in Los Angeles, too.

For the time being, it looks like both teams are in a good situation to duke it out for Pacific Division positioning.

The Sharks clearly took the edge in that regard tonight.

Is there even any doubt Chad Johnson is the Flames’ guy?

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The beauty of the Calgary Flames bringing in two goalies without long-term contracts is that they enjoy rare flexibility. That means being able to run with Chad Johnson, even if Brian Elliott‘s the guy with “All-Star” on his resume.

It’s probably reasonable to watch this situation, but at this point, it’s extremely difficult to deny that Johnson is the man for the Flames. At least right now.

Wednesday presented the latest exhibit, as Johnson stopped 39 Toronto Maple Leafs shots in a 3-0 win for Calgary.

With that, he now has three shutouts in November, matching some admittedly specific team history:

Maybe more importantly, head coach Glen Gulutzan acknowledges that Johnson bailed the Flames out more than once on Wednesday. This was the most exciting example:

Here’s the thing: with a career .918 save percentage, it’s possible that Johnson’s been worthy of a chance to be “the guy” for some time. In Elliott’s struggles, the Flames may have stumbled upon their brick wall.

Job-saver? Islanders beat Penguins after blowing lead

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After tonight’s games, a lot of New York Islanders fans were probably doing the “wipe sweat off brow” hand motion. Jack Capuano probably didn’t need to fake it.

Things seemed like they were smooth sailing for the Isles against the Pittsburgh Penguins, as they opened up a 3-0 lead. Then, they watched in horror as the Penguins rattled off three goals during the third period. It looked like it would be a real nail-biter going into overtime.

Yet, 19:33 into the final frame, Anders Lee made it 4-3, with Nikolay Kulemin locking it down at 5-3 mere seconds later.

More than a few people wonder if those goals saved the Isles’ embattled head coach’s job.

After a terrible 2-5-4 run through most of November, the Islanders are now on a two-game winning streak. Following tomorrow’s trip to face the Capitals in D.C., they’ll enjoy five of six games in Brooklyn.

They’re only five points out of a wild card spot, which isn’t ideal … but it’s better than blowing a three-goal lead and possibly losing two points.

Did Anders Lee just become Capuano’s favorite player?

Dreger: NHLPA to reject CBA extension for Olympics; NHL game in China?

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NHL Insider Darren Dreger covered a variety of interesting topics on Wednesday, particularly when it came to growing the sport overseas.

As you can see around the four-minute mark of the video above, Dreger notes that the NHLPA is almost certain to reject the league’s bargain to extend the CBA by three years in order to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

(Dreger also notes that such discussions were possibly more informal than some might have believed.)

The players’ union is “perplexed” by the league’s reluctance to, in their view, grow the sport from a “global perspective” by participating in the upcoming PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.

Speaking of overseas opportunities, Dreger also notes that there could be an exhibition game between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings in China before the 2017-18 season, though such an idea hasn’t been finalized.

Interestingly, Dreger points out that David Pastrnak* ranks among those being sponsored by China-based company O.R.G., another nod to that global growth.

On a night where the MLB locked down another CBA without a work stoppage, it’s interesting to see the NHL and NHLPA try to hammer out agreements like participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Consider this story “to be continued.”

* – Amusingly pictured in this post’s main image.

WATCH LIVE: Sharks at Kings – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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Wednesday Night Rivalry’s doubleheader continues on NBCSN with a California clash: the San Jose Sharks at the Los Angeles Kings.

The Sharks sit atop the Pacific Division and the Kings are clinging to a wild card spot, yet those positions can be deceptive. With 27 points in 23 games, the Sharks really need to hold off the rising Kings (just two points behind with a game in hand).

Hockey fans have become accustomed to these two teams fighting it out with serious stakes, so this should be familiar and fantastic.

You can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Here’s the livestream link.