James O'Brien

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

Flyers get extra point over Capitals in battle of red-hot Metro teams

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Just about everything was even between the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals on Wednesday. It makes sense that the Flyers won by such a narrow margin (3-2, via a shootout).

In both regulation and that shootout, the Flyers were forced to fight back from deficits. They did in both cases, fattening a one-point edge to a two-point margin over the Capitals for fourth place in the extremely competitive Metro Division.

As you can see from the way the standings and games played shake out, the Flyers needed this a bit more than the Capitals:

Metro Standings

1. Penguins – 47 points in 33 games played
2. Rangers – 47 points in 35 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 46 points in 30 GP
4. Flyers – 44 points in 35 GP
5. Capitals – 42 points in 31 GP

Similar trajectories

Again, the parallels between these two teams were only reinforced in this game. Both squads finished with 38 shots on goal, with Braden Holtby and Steve Mason generating some jaw-dropping stops.

The Flyers are now 11-1-1 over their last 13 games while the Capitals are on a similar path, including getting points in all but one of their last six games (6-1-1).

Andre Burakovsky responded to the challenge from the Capitals tonight: show us why we shouldn’t scratch you again. He factored into both Washington goals (one goal, one assist) to help them secure a point. Meanwhile, the Flyers enjoyed strong play from usual suspects like Claude Giroux (tying goal) and Jakub Voracek (an assist on Michael Raffl‘s barely-in tally).

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There are certain games where you can just feel that one team has the advantage. In others, it would be pretty difficult to miss which squad has the edge.

This one didn’t really fall into either of those categories. Instead, it was a remarkably even tug-of-war, but to the Flyers’ credit, they’ve shown a remarkable knack for winning that extra battle.

Video: Caps’ Burakovsky responds to slump, scratches with goal

Wednesday presented a precious gift to Andre Burakovsky: an opportunity to get in the Washington Capitals lineup. He responded with a much-needed goal.

After going 26 games without a goal and prompting Barry Trotz to understandably scratch him, Burakovsky scored the only tally of the first period between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.

Burakovsky’s far too talented to go so long without goals, even if you chalk some of it up to bad bounces. Maybe this will be the start of a hot streak?

Islanders give Stephen Gionta two-way deal, recall him from AHL

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NEW YORK (AP) The New York Islanders signed forward Stephen Gionta to a one-year, two-way contract Wednesday and recalled him from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League.

The 33-year-old Gionta had a goal and two assists in seven games for Bridgeport. Last season, he had a goal and 10 assists in 82 games for the New Jersey Devils. The former Boston College star has 15 goals and 35 assists in 270 career games, all with New Jersey.

The Islanders host Buffalo on Friday night.

Dreger says Jagr, Panthers are unsure about next season (and beyond)

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For some, every Jaromir Jagr milestone – most recently tying Mark Messier at No. 2 for points in NHL history – comes with anxiety over when he’ll stop putting up historic numbers.

Those people want to know “What’s next,” but neither Jagr nor the Florida Panthers expect to answer questions about the future during the 2016-17 season itself. That discussion will need to wait until later barring unforeseen circumstances, as Darren Dreger said on NBCSN tonight.

(Check out more on Jagr’s aims, serious or not, to play to age 50 in the video above.)

That wasn’t the only thing Dreger covered on Wednesday, as he also provided some injury updates, including not-so-optimistic rumblings about Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who was placed on IR.

Devils management to players: ‘Play [blanking] harder’

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Maybe it’s about Cory Schneider‘s unexpected struggles. Perhaps it boils down to a team with limited talent showing its true colors. Whatever the case may be, the New Jersey Devils are currently on a seven-game losing streak.

GM Ray Shero doesn’t pin the struggles on coach John Hynes. Instead, the management team has quite the R-rated message for their players, as The Record’s Andrew Gross reports.

“Play harder,” Hynes said of the message management had for the team. “Really. Play [bleeping] harder. That’s what I’m talking about. There’s a will they need. There’s a passion and emotion to our game. How many scrums have we been involved with? No one is mad at us. There’s got to be pushback in your game and pride in your game. Someone takes your lunch money, what the [expletive]? It’s not good. That’s something we established last year. It’s a tenacity to your game. Our team last year, we never gave up. That, to me, is what you’re trying to build, and that’s pride.”

Shero also used the word “pride” in describing what he wants from his team, a group he believes has been looking “slow” lately.

The Devils are 0-6-1 in their last seven games, with just three wins since Nov. 17 (a 3-10-4 run).

Considering the level of competition in the East in general and the Metropolitan Division more specifically, New Jersey doesn’t have much room for error (if any). Some might believe that they’re simply better off flopping to grab some more high-end talent to add alongside the likes of Schneider and Taylor Hall.

Still, this isn’t a franchise that’s particularly used to cellar dwelling, so it’s easier to say “just tank” than to actually go through that slog.

Really, the Devils may say some, um, unprintable things if you bring up such an idea.