James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Islanders’ latest way to bum fans out: Blown leads, this time vs. Blackhawks

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From ice issues to dreaded votes of confidence and lacking play, the New York Islanders have been a big letdown in 2016-17. They aren’t consciously trying to leave their fans depressed, but if that was the goal, they’d be excelling in that area.

Lately, the Islanders have been unable to protect leads, including tonight’s 5-4 defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks.

As Newsday’s Arthur Staple notes, the Islanders are now on a three-game losing streak, a run in which they’ve held a third-period lead in all three games. Just, ouch.

To be fair to the Islanders, this streak also comes against three playoff-quality teams (arguably three Cup contenders) in the Blue Jackets, Capitals and now Blackhawks. Chicago stands as a particular contrast to the Islanders in the way they’ve been closing out games.

So, it’s not like the Islanders are just awful. Sometimes, it’s actually worse for a fan base to go through that yo-yo effect, though; the Isles would likely flirt with “most frustrating team” status for this season.

This losing streak comes after the Islanders won five of six games, collecting a point in all six (5-0-1). They’re now 11-13-5, a more disastrous situation when you consider the context of the astoundingly potent top rankings of the Metropolitan Division.

With it being mid-December, it’s possible that the Islanders will turn things around and reward their patient fans. The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t look so hot this time last year, as just one example of a team making it work mid-season.

Still, it’s been a slog early on, and we’re not just talking about the roundly critiqued playing surface.

Henrik Lundqvist eventually returns after being clobbered by Cody Eakin

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Just when Henrik Lundqvist thought it was safe to return to the New York Rangers’ net, this happens.

Lundqvist left tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars (at least for the moment) after a huge hit by Dallas Stars forward Cody Eakin. Eakin received a game misconduct and major penalty for the, frankly, quite puzzling hit.

Video will be added momentarily. In the mean time, draw your jaw in awe at the audacious hit via this GIF:

Wow. Don’t be shocked if this seemingly bloodless rivalry gets a little nasty on Thursday.

Update: Rangers fans can breathe easier, as Lundqvist returned during the same period and made some nice saves.

Naturally, if he has a setback, it will be noted, but that’s a promising sign.

Lundqvist gained a significant measure of revenge by not just returning, but blanking the Stars in a 2-0 win for the Rangers.

Raising Arizona: Auston Matthews scores vs. Coyotes (Video)

This is pretty cool stuff even for those normally jaded by “narratives.” Auston Matthews scored the 1-0 goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight against the team he grew up cheering for in the Arizona Coyotes.

(You may have heard about his upbringing and how it trumpets “non-traditional hockey” about a million times during the height of Matthews as No. 1 pick talk.)

Bonus points to Matthews for scoring a very nice goal, to boot. He now has 14 goals during his impressive rookie season.

Peter Holland ultimately stole the show by helping the Coyotes win via a shootout goal, though. More on that here.

Mike Hoffman will have hearing for cross-checking Logan Couture

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced that Ottawa Senators winger Mike Hoffman will face a hearing for his cross-check on San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture from Wednesday night.

While the league didn’t specify in its official announcement, it will be a telephone hearing for Hoffman, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie. (An in-person hearing would imply that a heavier punishment might be likely.)

It likely helps Hoffman’s cause that he’s never been suspended by the NHL.

Plenty of fans, especially those of the Senators, are unhappy that Hoffman might face supplemental discipline while Marc-Edouard Vlasic may not for his spear on Erik Karlsson (which Karlsson called a “pitchfork to the face”).

There’s some hate brewing between these teams, but they won’t meet again in the regular season.

Messier hopes to be there when Jagr passes him for No. 2 in all-time scoring

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After Thursday’s game, Jaromir Jagr needs three points to tie Mark Messier for second all-time on the NHL scoring list, and four to stand alone behind Wayne Gretzky.

It almost seems customary for a record-holder or high-ranking player to handle such situations with humility, at least in hockey. And Messier is no different.

“No question I’d like to be there in person if possible,” Messier said, according to NHL.com. “I don’t know if it’s going to be possible or not, but I certainly will be reaching out to Jaromir and congratulating him when he does move into second place overall.”

He notes that he never saw himself as a top scorer along the lines of Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, and also points to one of hockey’s better “What if” scenarios: where would Jagr rank if he didn’t spend all that time overseas?

Regardless, Messier is impressed by how strong Jagr is on the puck even to this day.

As far as Jagr’s teammates go, they’re taking the “don’t make eye contact with the guy who could pitch a perfect game” approach.

“We don’t really talk about that here, but I think everybody knows that he’s pretty close,” Aleksander Barkov said. ” … It’s amazing”

Yep, that might be the way to go.

Update: Jagr got an assist in Florida’s shootout loss to the Jets.