James O'Brien

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

WATCH LIVE: Penguins at Islanders – Wednesday Night Rivalry

Of tonight’s three games, two are part of a great edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN.

The first is a fun one: the Pittsburgh Penguins at the New York Islanders.

Yes, the Isles are wobbly lately, but it’s rarely a bad time to watch John Tavares vs. Sidney Crosby and the other stars on both sides. This Brooklyn bout shouldn’t be any different.

You can watch the action online and stream it via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Promising Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana gets his shot

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Even with T.J. Oshie on the mend, the Washington Capitals boast a bountiful array of prime-age scorers. Imagine if Jakub Vrana becomes the latest quick study of the 2016-17 season.

Russian Machine Never Breaks captured the reaction of many prospect-minded Caps fans when news surfaced that Vrana was recalled along with Paul Carey: “finally.”

That’s not to say that it’s been a slow development from the 13th pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, being that he’s only 20.

Still, you look at these AHL stats and he’s distinguished hismelf in almost every situation (even in limited duty, all stats with the Hershey Bears):

2014-15: five points in three regular season games, six in 10 playoffs
2015-16: 34 in 36 regular season games, 14 in 21 playoffs
2016-17: 16 in 18 games

Those are the type of numbers that often translate quite nicely to the NHL. As just a quick example, 2016-17 sensation Jonathan Marchessault quietly put up very nice AHL numbers before running with his best chance at the NHL level with the Florida Panthers.

This isn’t to say that Vrana is going to be a smash success right away, especially since Barry Trotz has, at times, been reluctant to throw rookies in the deep end off the bat.

Still, there’s a very reasonable chance he could make an impact, and that’s a pretty exciting development for a Capitals team that’s already loaded.

Zach Sanford was the Capitals player demoted to Hershey to make room for Vrana and Carey.

Blackhawks best Panthers in first game for Florida’s new coach

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CHICAGO (AP) Richard Panik raised his stick in the air with his left hand as he skated away from a defeated Roberto Luongo.

At long last, his slump was over.

Panik scored in regulation and then had the deciding goal in a shootout, helping the Chicago Blackhawks beat Florida 2-1 on Tuesday night in the Panthers’ first game since Tom Rowe took over as interim coach.

Artemi Panarin also scored in the tiebreaker and Corey Crawford matched a season high with 38 saves in Chicago’s first home game in 16 days. The Blackhawks went 3-3-1 on their annual circus trip.

“That was a long trip. We were excited to come back home,” Crawford said.

Panarin beat Luongo with a slick backhand in the second round. After Aleksander Barkov was stopped by Crawford at the other end, Panik converted his chance with a well-placed wrist shot past Luongo on the glove side.

“I’m really grateful for Corey being behind us,” Panarin said through a translator. “If it weren’t for him, the last couple games would have turned out differently. We’re lucky to have him.”

Florida (11-10-2) returned to the ice for the first time since coach Gerard Gallant was fired after a 3-2 loss at Carolina on Sunday night. Jaromir Jagr scored in the third period and Luongo made 32 saves, but the Panthers lost for the third time in four games.

“We got back to getting pucks to the net, getting 39 shots against a heck of a hockey club,” said Rowe, who was serving as Florida’s general manager at the time of the coaching change. “So a lot of positives and a lot to build on after tonight.”

Chicago (15-6-3) played without captain Jonathan Toews, who missed his third consecutive game with an upper-body injury. Fellow center Artem Anisimov left in the third after teammate Duncan Keith‘s shot went off the inside of his lower right leg.

“We’ll see how he is. He seemed to be OK,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ll know more tomorrow.”

The Blackhawks carried a 1-0 lead into the third, but the Panthers made the most of 69 seconds of leftover power-play time from Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s second-period hooking penalty. Jonathan Marchessault‘s centering pass went off Keith, and Jagr poked it in for his fourth of the season and No. 753 for his career.

Florida had a chance to grab the lead when Crawford lost his stick after he was tripped by teammate Vinnie Hinostroza. But the goalie slid over in time to stop a shot from Derek MacKenzie and then fell on the puck after it went off the post.

Crawford also made a nice right pad save on Mark Pysyk with 8:09 to go, and stopped Jagr in front in the final minute.

“I thought Jagr was unreal,” Rowe said. “In this building with the speed they come at you with, and Jags was really unbelievable down low.”

Florida had 100 seconds of power-play time in overtime, but Chicago killed it off. Luongo turned away two nice moves by Patrick Kane, and Crawford stopped Aaron Ekblad in the final seconds of OT.

It was a really nice night for each goaltender, right from the start.

Luongo got over to stop Panarin, and Crawford made a great pad save on Barkov before the Blackhawks jumped in front in the first. Panik got loose for a breakaway and slipped a backhand by Luongo for his seventh goal with 2:10 left in the period.

It was Panik’s first goal since Oct. 22, stopping a 17-game drought. The winger had no points and a minus-2 rating in his previous 13 games.

“(Dennis) Rasmussen flipped it over and the D-man touched it,” Panik said. “So I had a breakaway and a nice score. A goal helps you with your confidence.”

The Panthers and Blackhawks each killed off a penalty during a scoreless second. Crawford also made a flashy glove save on a big drive by Keith Yandle, and Luongo stopped a long shot by Gustav Forsling.

NOTES: Jagr played in his 1,652nd game, passing Chris Chelios and moving into a tie with Mark Recchi for fourth on the NHL’s career list. … Toews did not participate in the morning skate, and Quenneville said he is questionable for Thursday night’s game against New Jersey. … Chicago D Brian Campbell played his first game against Florida since he left the Panthers for a one-year deal with the Blackhawks during free agency.

UP NEXT

Panthers: Visit the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.

Blackhawks: Host the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Johansen’s uncanny goal helps Predators stay hot

After going 2-5-1 and dealing with food poisoning in October, the Nashville Predators rattled off a remarkable 9-3-2 November.

They won their fourth of five games thank to a 5-3 victory against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, with Ryan Johansen‘s one-legged goal being a true sight to see (video above).

Question: was that the goal of the night? There’s plenty of competition on this jam-packed evening.

Either way, the Predators are starting to look like the dangerous squad we expected heading into the season; they’re now 11-8-3, good enough for a wild card spot at the moment.

The Predators are also in a solid position to make December a strong month. They play three straight at home and six of eight at Bridgestone Arena. Overall, they play nine games at home vs. five on the road to finish 2016. With an 8-1-1 home record so far, that bodes well.

With three straight losses, the Avalanche finish November like the Predators ended October: looking for answers. It remains to be seen if they can figure things out like Nashville seemingly has.

Matthews, Leafs too much for McDavid and the Oilers

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For a while, it seemed like Nazem Kadri shutting down Connor McDavid might be the story of the Maple Leafs’ eventual season sweep of the Edmonton Oilers.

McDavid eventually broke through – and broke some ankles, in the case of his blistering tally – with a goal and an assist on Tuesday, but Toronto ultimately won 4-2.

Here’s a video of the goals by Matthews and McDavid, all in one convenient clip:

Team effort

Matthews started the scoring less than six minutes into the contest, while other Maple Leafs usual suspects Kadri and James van Riemsdyk joined him in hitting the 10-goal plateau.

JVR, Kadri and Zach Hyman all scored in a 3-1 second period for Toronto, a stretch that ultimately provided the advantage for the Buds.

Beyond the star forwards (also brilliant: Mitch Marner and William Nylander), the game was about very different nights for the two franchise goalies.

Frederik Andersen continues to turn things around lately, stopping 28 out of 30 shots on goal. Cam Talbot couldn’t even make it through the entire game as Jonas Gustavsson took over in the third period.

The road ahead

The Maple Leafs began their three-game swing through Western Canada with this victory. They don’t get much time to celebrate with a game against the Flames in Calgary on Wednesday. This is just the second road win of 2016-17 for Toronto, who improved to 10-8-4 on the season.

On the other hand, the Oilers have now dropped three games in a row, dropping their record to 12-10-2.

Ultimately, both teams have work to do to back up the hype they continue to build. Still, young stars like Matthews and McDavid are making it easy to see why people are so excited.