James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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It isn’t pretty, but Stars are surviving

There’s not much sense spinning an overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks or the Dallas Stars’ 6-6-4 record.

For a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, that’s just not good enough.

Still, for all we know, stumbling like this – but not giving up – might just serve the Stars well in the future. Even if it’s tough to stomach moments like Sunday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the lowly Canucks.

(This is just the Canucks second win since Oct. 22, a 2-9-1 stretch.)

If nothing else, the Stars are carving out points here rather than imploding altogether. After going 0-2-1 in a previous three-game road trip, they showed some mettle this time around:

Nov. 6: 4-3 overtime loss to Blackhawks in a back-to-back set against Chicago
Nov. 8: 8-2 loss to Winnipeg
Nov. 10: 4-2 win at Calgary
Nov. 11: 3-2 win at Edmonton
Nov. 13: 5-4 OT loss to Vancouver

Look, that isn’t pretty. It doesn’t exactly scream “juggernaut team.” And, yes, their goaltending remains a jarring disaster.

Navigating an uneven road

Frankly, the Stars might just be headed down a path of uneven play, at least to finish 2016.

Beginning on Tuesday, they’ll play five of six at home, but that’s followed by a stretch of five of six games on the road. Things continue in those two extreme directions, home vs. road wise, through December.

Maybe they’ll transcend their schedule and go on a tear. Maybe the Stars will see more tough times in the near future.

Beyond hardcore fans, they’re unlikely to get much credit for keeping their head above water, but the playoffs present hard lessons and harsh challenges as well. For all we know, these rough times may just serve Dallas well.

You know, or they’re just mediocre.

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    Flyers’ net nightmare continues: Neuvirth out 4-6 weeks

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    Between Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason, the Philadelphia Flyers frequently benefited from great goaltending last season, but that just hasn’t been the case in 2016-17. Now they’ll be without Neuvirth for four-to-six weeks.

    The team only deems it a lower-body injury while CSN Philly reports that the issue is knee-related.

    Again, it’s a pretty glum situation right now.

    On the other hand, maybe the Flyers will benefit indirectly? Take a look at the stats so far for Neuvirth and Mason:

    Neuvirth: 4-2-0, .859 save percentage, 3.54 GAA
    Mason: 3-5-2, .880 save percentage, 3.41 GAA

    Yeah, that’s abysmal. Those are Reagan-era goalie numbers.

    So, perhaps this could be a blessing in disguise? Consider a few possibilities, however remote they may be:

    1. Maybe they needed this nudge to go to Mason more often.

    Yes, his numbers have been bad too … but they are a BIT better.

    2. If Anthony Stolarz is the backup, maybe he deserves a shot?

    There’s some pedigree there (45th pick in 2012), and he’s posted a .927 save percentage in the AHL so far this season. If Mason keeps struggling, why not just see if you lucked into a decent solution?

    3. Perhaps Neuvirth will benefit from something of a “mental health break.”

    Sometimes things get away from you. He can take these weeks to study game tape or catch up on “The Crown.”

    ***

    Overall, this is a really bad situation. So far, Neuvirth and Mason look like they’re joining Brian Elliott in suffering terrible contract years.

    Then again, with their goalies’ current struggles in mind, you never know when an injury might actually push you in a better direction or at least change your course. The Flyers merely only need to look at the Pittsburgh Penguins as an example of that.

    Condon continues strong start with Senators

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Coming off what Guy Boucher called their “worst game of the year,” the Ottawa Senators impressed their coach with a comeback effort Wednesday night.

    Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris scored during a shootout, helping the Senators beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-1.

    Backup goaltender Mike Condon made 31 saves, including eight in overtime, as the Senators rebounded from a 3-1 loss in Nashville on Tuesday and avenged a 2-1 loss to the Sabres at home Saturday.

    “That’s a lot of resiliency,” Boucher said. “I’m really proud of the guys because that’s a tough back-to-back.”

    Turris scored in the first round of the shootout to match Sam Reinhart‘s tally, and then Ryan put Ottawa ahead in the second round. Condon stopped Brian Gionta on Buffalo’s final attempt.

    Ryan Dzingel got a tying goal for Ottawa 7:15 into the second period.

    Nicholas Baptiste scored for Buffalo, and former Senator Robin Lehner made 28 saves while the Sabres lost their second in a row.

    Buffalo controlled the action throughout overtime, outshooting Ottawa 8-0.

    “We just possessed the puck the whole time for the most part and had some glorious chances to win the game,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.

    Zemgus Girgensons got a point-blank shot past Condon with 27 seconds remaining, but the puck ricocheted off the back of Condon’s skate and the left post.

    “It’s funny how puck luck works,” Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe said. “Hopefully one of these days, the puck’s going to bounce our way. But we just got to keep doing the right things, create our own luck.”

    Condon has won both of his starts for the Senators since being acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. He made 27 saves in a 1-0 shutout of Vancouver in his debut.

    “It’s great for a guy to come in and make his presence known like that,” Dzingel said. “Hats off to him. Two great games.”

    Baptiste gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead 2:49 into the first. Derek Grant‘s faceoff win and a quick pass from Cole Schneider set up Baptiste’s wrist shot from the left circle. It was Baptiste’s second career goal and Schneider’s first point.

    The Senators tied it when Dzingel split defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Rasmus Ristolainen and lifted a shot from the left slot over Lehner’s blocking pad. Dzingel has scored four of his five goals on the road this season.

    Buffalo killed three penalties spanning 4:36 in the second period, including a 5-on-3 that lasted 1:24.

    Forward Evander Kane returned to the Sabres top line after missing 11 games with cracked ribs, but Buffalo was still without its top two centers, Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel. O’Reilly is day-to-day with an upper body injury, Bylsma said. Eichel has yet to play this season due to a high ankle sprain, but Bylsma said he could be cleared for on-ice workouts next week.

    NOTES:

    Senators F Chris Neil missed the game with an undisclosed injury. Ottawa recalled F Mike Blunden to replace Neil on the fourth line. … F Tyler Ennis sat out for Buffalo with a mid-body injury. … Buffalo recalled Schneider from the minors and sent down F Hudson Fasching. Schneider was tied for the AHL scoring lead with 15 points.

    UP NEXT:

    Senators: Host Los Angeles on Friday.

    Sabres: Host New Jersey on Friday.

    Panarin’s Hands: Gordie Howe hat trick helps Blackhawks beat Blues

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    Seeing Scottie Upshall drop the gloves is a fairly rare thing, yet it happens. Artemi Panarin, though? Few saw that coming.

    Then again, maybe the suddenness of it all ended up being the theme for Panarin’s night.

    Just like that, Panarin fought with Upshall. Then, just like that, Panarin came out of the penalty box for his five-minute major and scored the 2-1 overtime-winner for the Chicago Blackhawks against the St. Louis Blues.

    This victory gives the Blackhawks seven consecutive wins and widens their lead for first in the Central Division over the Blues. For all the worries about Chicago losing a step this season, it must be noted that they’re currently the top-ranked team in the West with 21 points. Only the Montreal Canadiens have more overall with 23.

    Consider the Russian winger one of the most unexpected generators of a Gordie Howe hat trick in recent memory, as he assisted on Chicago’s other tally of the night, giving him the requisite fight, goal and helper.

    And, boy, it was a pretty legit battle:

    The phrase “playoff atmosphere in November” was thrown around often to describe the high-quality, high-tension edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry.

    If parallels really do carry over between this very young point of the 2016-17 season and the ensuing playoffs, then you might say that Panarin will be quite the breadwinner for the Blackhawks.

    (Sorry.)

    More: Not all good news for the Blackhawks – Artem Anisimov left the game with an injury.

    Also, maybe we should have seen this coming.

    Anisimov won’t return from injury; point streak ends at 11 games

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    The Chicago Blackhawks have been jumbling their lines up quite a bit lately, but wherever he’s landed, Artem Anisimov is getting his points.

    Or, was, at least. Anisimov’s point streak will end at 11 games on Wednesday night, as he won’t return to tonight’s contest against the St. Louis Blues.

    It’s unclear how he was hurt or how severe the issue is. CSN Chicago notes that his last shift came with 5:30 remaining in the second period.

    At the moment, the Blackhawks hold a 1-0 lead late in the third period.

    Update: Tracey Myers reports that Anisimov’s injury is merely labeled “upper body” and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play during the weekend.

    The Blackhawks ended up beating the Blues 2-1 in overtime. Read more about that here.