James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Royal pain: Kings put Brayden McNabb on IR

The Los Angeles Kings placed Brayden McNabb on injured reserve on Sunday.

While this move doesn’t devastate the Kings’ roster quite like Jonathan Quick‘s absence does, it’s another tough blow to Los Angeles, a team also without Marian Gaborik for quite some time.

McNabb is a big defenseman who’s been taking on an increasing role with the Kings. He went from averaging about 16 minutes in 2014-15 to almost 19 in 2015-16 and is now at 20:14 time on ice per contest through this young season.

The Kings have been able to stay in (and often win) recent contests by protecting Peter Budaj and hogging the puck, so this stings Darryl Sutter’s crew.

Los Angeles faces the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night.

Quite a weekend for the Buffalo Sabres

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The Buffalo Sabres strengthened an already justifiable stance this weekend: the NHL doesn’t have many – if any – truly terrible teams right now.

When you look at their schedule for Saturday and Sunday, you’d probably say they’d be lucky to grab a point or two. Instead, they blanked the Florida Panthers 3-0 on Saturday and then almost shut out the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 today.

(They missed five or six empty-net goals to inflate that last score, almost to the point of it being spooky.)

There’s no denying that great goaltending factored into this surprisingly impressive back-to-back set.

First, Anders Nilsson made 33 saves for the second shutout of his bumpy NHL career. This time around, Robin Lehner stopped 37 of 38 shots against an explosive Jets lineup.

They weren’t the only players to enjoy this two-day stretch, though. Kyle Okposo enjoyed what was likely his best weekend as a member of the Sabres, scoring three goals on four shots.

With that, the Sabres are now 3-3-2 on the season, and the standings are that much murkier.

Blues basically beat Kings at their own game last night

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Jaden Schwartz had let enough chances slip by this season.

Jake Allen stopped 27 shots and Schwartz scored early in the third period, leading the St. Louis Blues over the Los Angeles Kings 1-0 on Saturday night.

Schwartz scored 3:43 into the third off a pass from Jori Lehtera, swiping the puck from in front past goalie Peter Budaj.

“It’s nice seeing it go in. I’ve been missing too many,” Schwartz said. “It was a huge play. I got it off my stick as quick as I could. I wanted to rip that one. I’ve had some this year and missed.”

Allen got his first shutout this season and the 12th in his career.

“You just keep playing your game and try not to let anything faze you,” Allen said. “If you need a shutout, so be it, but you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself. It’s just sort of one minute at a time.”

Schwartz got the first goal by a Blues forward in 169 minutes, 22 seconds. Vladimir Tarasenko also assisted on Schwartz’s first goal of the season.

Los Angeles challenged the play for offsides, but the goal was upheld.

Budaj had 24 saves. He had won five straight dating to last season.

“I think it’s just sometimes good players make a good play,” Budaj said about the goal. “It’s a nice play for them, give credit to them. Sometimes you get bounces and sometimes you don’t.”

Before Schwartz’s goal, the action was sparse in a hard-hitting game. Los Angeles had just 10 shots in each of the first two periods, and the Blues had 13 shots after two periods.

“This was no day at the beach for either team, this type of game,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. “This was a heavy, hard, well-played hockey game.”

The Blues have had just one goal in five of their last six games.

“We’re playing kind of like Italian soccer, 1-0, good defense, and it’s just one goal,” Lehtera said. “It’s enough.”

St. Louis has won three in a row against the Kings, who entered play with a four-game winning streak – three in overtime and one in a shootout.

The Kings failed to score on five power-play opportunities. For the season, St. Louis has killed 30 of 32 power plays.

“Killing penalties is just work,” Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. “At the end of the day, your goalie is your best penalty killer and Jake’s been coming up with some big saves.”

The Blues did not score on four chances with an extra man.

Los Angeles defenseman Braden McNabb left early in the third period with an upper body injury and did not return.

NOTES: St. Louis defenseman Robert Bortuzzo has a lower body injury and will be evaluated in 10 days. Bortuzzo was injured early in the third period in Thursday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Detroit. Bortuzzo was skating to the bench after serving a minor penalty and collided with a Red Wings player. … This game was the only regular season meeting for the teams in St. Louis. The other two games will be played in Los Angeles. … The Blues announced Bob Plager’s No. 5 would be officially retired. Plager will join Al MacInnis, Bob Gassoff, Brian Sutter, Brett Hull, Bernie Federko and his brother, Barclay Plager, as the only players to receive the honor from the Blues. Plager was recognized during the first period. The official ceremony featuring the banner with his number raising will take place Feb. 2 when the Blues host the Toronto Maple Leafs. … Bouwmeester skated in his 999th regular season game.

UP NEXT:

Los Angeles: Play at Chicago on Sunday.

St. Louis: Play at the New York Rangers on Tuesday.

Sharks hand another tough loss to puzzling Predators

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So far, the Nashville Predators’ start to Saturday is paralleling their start to the 2016-17 season: it’s been pretty brutal.

Falling behind in the first period was one thing, but a 1-0 game escalated to a 3-0 deficit in dizzying fashion, as Nashville allowed two goals in just 17 seconds.

Fittingly in a “when it rains it pours” situation, there were plenty of other moments that went against Nashville even beyond that demoralizing early score.

Take, for instance, this Pekka Rinne … adventure before San Jose eventually scored:

Some might find cruel symbolism in Predators players possibly hurting each other on accident:

Brutal, just brutal.

Nashville has had its share of chances, including Mike Fisher flubbing on what seemed like a sure-thing goal. So it’s not like the Predators are totally sleepwalking through this, though we’ll see how much spirit they’ll show in the third period.

(On the bright side, the Preds made it 3-1 very late in the second, so the climb isn’t as steep.)

Hey, if you want to be a true contender, you need to learn how to roll with the punches, and the Predators are eating some serious haymakers to start the season.

Update: The Sharks ended up winning 4-1. So, yeah, a tough night for Nashville.

Report: Islanders open to trading Halak after agent gripes on Twitter

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You know how teams looking to improve their goaltending have lacked options? The New York Islanders might just change that.

In what feels like an instance of serious backstage drama, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Islanders “let the league know Jaroslav Halak is available” after his agent Allan Walsh tweeted about the team’s awkward three-goalie situation.

Walsh – who actually represents two of the Islanders goalies, as Jean-Francois Berube is also one of his clients – put out these two complaints on Twitter Saturday afternoon:

Say what you will about Walsh or agents in general, sometimes public complaints really get the ball rolling on important changes. Granted, it remains to be seen if this blows up in his face (or the faces of Halak/Berube) once this situation shakes out … one way or another.

Berube is slated to be an RFA after this season, while Thomas Greiss will be a UFA likely to get a big bump from his bargain $1.5 million cap hit after 2016-17.

Meanwhile, Halak’s $4.5 million cap hit won’t expire until after the 2017-18 season.

Halak has his issues, particularly with injuries, yet one could absolutely see a team at least inquire about the situation. We’ve seen plenty of flashes of brilliance from Halak, even beyond the obvious deep, unlikely run with the Montreal Canadiens.