James O'Brien

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

Video: Travis Zajac bloodied after face-first crash to boards

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A crash into the boards can be one of the most dangerous falls in hockey, especially when you can’t brace yourself for the impact.

That happened in one of the worst ways possible for New Jersey Devils forward Travis Zajac on Tuesday, as he went face-first into the boards during a game against the Vancouver Canucks.

It’s too early to tell for sure what kind of condition Zajac is in, but it was easy – and unsettling – to see how much he was bleeding from the fall.

The Devils aren’t too happy that the Canucks ended up with a 5-on-3 power play after the hit and subsequent reactions, yet most of all, they must be worried about the veteran forward.

It’s quietly been a great season for Zajac, too, who had 20 points in 24 games coming into Tuesday, including five points (hat trick one night, two assists the next) in his previous two games. NHL.com’s Mike Morreale shared a scary screen grab of the moment of impact:

Yikes. Here’s hoping it all looked worse than it actually ended up being.

Update: Not only did Zajac return to the game, he picked up an assist. Hockey players, everyone.

So much for being out for a while: Keith Yandle is in for Panthers

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Here’s some good news for a Florida Panthers team that can use it: Keith Yandle‘s injury isn’t so bad, after all.

Or, failing that, the blueliner is just flat-out tough.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Panthers indicated that Yandle would be out for “a while” with a lower-body injury. It looked like his ironman streak would end at 578 games.

Nope. Instead, he’s playing against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, his 578th consecutive contest.

Yandle has his critics (as many puck-moving defensemen do), yet moments like these should help him gain a little respect.

Of course, this doesn’t mean Yandle won’t face a setback and miss time in the long run. It will be interesting to see what kind of minutes he deals with. Will the Panthers limit his involvement or throw him right in the deep end tonight? We’ll find out very soon.

As everyone expected, Blue Jackets could soon lead the Metro division

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After beating the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Thursday, the Columbus Blue Jackets are ranked third in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the Washington Capitals. Seriously.

Here’s the thing: saying they’re in third doesn’t even really do their promising position justice. Look at where they stand among the upper echeleon of a pretty stout division (full standings here):

Rangers: 16-8-1 for 33 points in 25 games
Penguins: 14-7-3 for 31 points in 24 games
Blue Jackets: 13-5-4 for 30 points in 22 games
Capitals: 13-7-2 for 28 points in 22 games

Apologies to the Coyotes, but with their next two games against Arizona, the Blue Jackets stand a great chance to match or exceed the Rangers’ 33 points.

There’s only so much to gain from pouring over the schedule, and diving deep into the details can distract you from the truly mind-blowing realization that the Blue Jackets might just be for real.

It’s not just the record or the hot run; Columbus’ +20 goal differential is second to the Rangers’ +28 mark among the NHL’s best. While the Blue Jackets are ranked sixth in PDO – a stat that indicates a team is getting lucky – the Rangers are far and above everyone else.

So, again, a team that was a very popular – and let’s be honest, reasonable – choice to finish dead last in the NHL is in a solid position to get home ice for a round in the playoffs.

Allow that to sink in once more: the Blue Jackets might just be for real.

Tarasenko torments Tampa Bay in Blues win

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Despite being the cover star for “NHL 17,” it feels like Vladimir Tarasenko sometimes slips under the radar, at least compared to some of his high-scoring peers.

Games like Thursday’s 5-4 win for the St. Louis Blues vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning should help him get some more attention.

Tarasenko generated his third career hat trick and added an assist for good measure, giving him 13 goals and 27 points in 24 games this season. (You can watch his impressive display in the video above.)

Other Blues who stood out were Alexander Steen (three assists in his first game since Nov. 15) and Kevin Shattenkirk, who managed two goals and two assists. With 19 points in 24 games, Shattenkirk is putting himself in a position to make some big bucks, whether that happens in St. Louis or somewhere else.

The Blues are on quite the run, especially at home.

Baby steps for the Bolts?

This stands as yet another night in which the Lightning allowed far too many goals. They’ve been out-scored 19-9 during a troubling four-game losing streak.

Even so, the Lightning saw some good in this game, as they made things interesting after St. Louis was at one point up 4-1. Tyler Johnson considered it a “step in the right direction,” for one.

“I thought we deserved points,” Jon Cooper said, according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.

They didn’t, of course, but perhaps this will be something to build on as the Lightning play three of their next four games at home.

McDavid, Oilers cool Jets despite Laine’s explosiveness

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It wasn’t just about Connor McDavid and Patrik Laine during Thursday’s 6-3 win for the Oilers over the Jets. The two high-end young scorers did deliver the goods, though.

McDavid generated three assists to help the Oilers end a three-game losing streak. Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu each generated two-goal, one-assist nights in sharing the spotlight with McDavid.

Could it be that the Oilers found a great fit for No. 97 in another high-end draft pick, by the way?

Edmonton gets the last laugh – and, really, a sigh of relief – yet it’s hard not to marvel at Laine in his own right. As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, he showed off his already-elite release with two blazing power-play goals.

With a pretty road-heavy schedule coming up, the Jets would have preferred a third consecutive win over their another highlight reel night for their fabulous first-year forward, but the Oilers ended up coming through instead.