James O'Brien

Video: Another NHL official gets checked


Here’s hoping checks on NHL officials don’t “happen in threes.”

It’s a little early to call it a trend, but another ref got bumped by a hockey player. Let’s go out on a limb and say that Brendan Smith‘s accidental hit was more, um, clearly accidental than what Dennis Wideman did.

(Feel free to disagree in the comments, though. You can see the video for yourself.)

The Florida Panthers ended up beating the Detroit Red Wings 6-3, so a bad night overall for Smith & Co.

Yep, Connor McDavid is fueling some Oilers’ optimism

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid warms up prior to taking on the Ottawa Senators in an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Yes, it’s probably hasty for the Edmonton Oilers to be looking up hopefully at the Western Conference standings. Seeing two wins shouldn’t sway you during the haul that is an 82-game campaign.

Even so, it’s tough to blame a team and fan base that’s so far removed from meaningful wins (at least beyond the draft lottery).

It’s also true that they’ve absolutely crushed their opponents in Connor McDavid‘s two games back.

After beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-1 on Tuesday, the Oilers hammered the Ottawa Senators by a lopsided score of 7-2.

After scoring a fantastic goal and adding two assists against Columbus, McDavid generated two more assists on Thursday (both on Jordan Eberle goals) to help Edmonton hammer Ottawa.

It’s foolish to say it’s all No. 97, as only one forward and four skaters failed to score for the Oilers. Still, Oilers fans can say “We’d be closer if Connor didn’t get hurt,” as this burst coincides with his glorious return.

Those murmurs are less interesting than the quieter voices arguing that maybe they can make the playoffs regardless. Without any “What if?” assertions.

Again, it’s not the most realistic thought; Sports Club Stats puts them at a 1.7 percent chance of making the postseason as of this writing.

On the other hand, the Anaheim Ducks aren’t THAT far ahead of the Oilers for the Pacific’s plum third seed, so who knows?

Such thoughts are more enticing than imagining another draft pick, if nothing else.

(Even if, chances are, they’ll likely ultimately settle for another lottery ticket.)

Jagr, Luongo, Panthers keep doing special things

Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) and goalie Roberto Luongo congratulate each other after the Panthers defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 in Sunrise, Fla. Jagr scored twice in the first period and Luongo made 24 saves for his 403rd career victory during the game. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

With all due respect to John Vanbiesbrouck’s plastic rat group, the 2015-16 version of the Florida Panthers may be the franchise at its most special.

Either way, it’s been quite a phenomenal run as of late.

Thursday’s 6-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings stands as noteworthy both from team and individual standpoints.

Jaromir Jagr: The Mulleted Marvel generated the 1,110th assist of his illustrious career, and he didn’t take the night off after hitting that milestone. He ended up scoring a goal and two assists overall.

He’s really breathing down history’s neck:

Roberto Luongo: Speaking of history, Luongo reminds us that he’s carving out quite the special place of his own, as he’s now alone in seventh place all-time for wins.

Panthers: It probably feels special enough for the Panthers to beat a gold-standard franchise in the Red Wings by such a margin. The more exciting part for Panthers fans is that it’s just the continuation of a trend. They’re now 17-3-1 in their past 21 games and are on a five-game winning streak.

Whatever way you slice it, the Panthers are providing memorable moments whether you focus on the past, present or future.

Ovechkin, Caps carve out close win vs. Isles

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When you ponder level of play, the gap between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals seems modest.

The standings tell a different story, as the Capitals difference-makers returned and … well, they made the difference.

Alex Ovechkin couldn’t convert on a key chance or two, but he came through when it mattered, scoring a late game-winner in Washington’s 3-2 victory. Braden Holtby also made his return to Washington’s lineup, holding strong to keep the Islanders from sending the contest into overtime.

To some, Ovechkin and Holtby may very well be the difference between the Capitals and everyone else in the East (if not the NHL).

Andre Burakovsky presents a counter-argument: the Caps also boast enviable support, maybe the best Ovechkin’s seen. While Evgeny Kuznetsov rightfully grabs a lot of attention as Washington’s rising young player, Burakovsky’s starting to show why he came into this season with hype of his own.

The margins can be pretty small in an age of parity, yet the Capitals find themselves with 10 more wins than the Islanders after this game.

Why? The quick, boring answer is that they’re just that much better.

WATCH LIVE: Anaheim Ducks at Los Angeles Kings

The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals are near the end of their competitive game, but that won’t end a strong night of hockey on NBCSN.

Nope, you’re getting a doubleheader on Thursday, and it ends with a battle of California as the Los Angeles Kings host the Anaheim Ducks.

You can watch these bitter neighbors on TV and also via the link below.