James O'Brien

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

GMs mixed about blindside hits, but maybe shootouts get spruced up?

5 Comments

Hey, the NHL might take its time with policing different forms of hits, but the league’s always interested in tweaking what happens after regulation.

From going to 3-on-3 overtime to eliminating the scourge that was the spin-o-rama, those changes seem to catch the eyes of GMs and others. So, it’s not too surprising that the league seems to be at an impasse when it comes to the controversial blindside hit Nazem Kadri delivered, yet they might change the “skills competition” thanks to the latest GM meetings.

“This isn’t a meeting where you make fundamental changes,” Gary Bettman said, via NHL.com. “It’s really more of an update.”

So while TSN’s Pierre LeBrun believes that the “hawks and doves” are split on what to do with blindside hits, St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong’s shootout tweak might be more likely to gain some traction.

Specifically, Armstrong looks to take a cue from the Sochi Olympics, when T.J. Oshie put on quite the display by taking shootout attempt after shootout attempt for the U.S. against Russia.

Armstrong’s tweak would allow teams to keep trotting out the same shooter Oshie-style after the first three shooters for each team.

Want more regarding those discussions? NHL.com’s Dan Rosen runs it down in this video.

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning at Detroit Red Wings

Getty

When you think of NHL rivalries, Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings might not be on the forefront, but it’s been proven that these two teams just don’t like each other.

Meeting in the first round of the playoffs two seasons in a row can do that to you.

To some extent, it’s that involuntary passing of the torch that happens in sports; the Bolts want to rise, yet the Red Wings don’t want to give up their spot. Maybe that explains at least some of the tension between these two teams.

Importantly, they also happen to bring plenty of skill and smarts to the table alongside that mutual disdain, so this should be a fun one on NBCSN. Check out that game online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the live stream, including some lead-in coverage before the game.

While Rangers keep rolling, are Oilers finally facing adversity?

Getty
3 Comments

The New York Rangers’ side of the story from their game against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday was almost boring.

Yeah, Antti Raanta stealing the show – and reminding us that the Rangers might just have two very strong goalies – was an interesting wrinkle. Still, you can argue for “same old, same old” in the best of ways for New York in its 3-1 win.

Michael Grabner scored again and then again. Their goaltending was once-again strong. They’ve now gone 10-2-0 in their last 12 games. Maybe the Rangers won’t be able to ride these high percentages all season long, but with each passing game, it’s getting tougher to question Alain Vigneault & Co.

Instead, let’s go deeper on the team the Rangers beat on Sunday.

The Edmonton Oilers are now on a three-game losing streak. They’ve only won one game in regulation in November. They’re now 2-5-1 in their last eight games.

And while you can give them some leeway (this losing streak comes against the Penguins, Stars and Rangers), their upcoming slate could wither away much of their youthful optimism.

Tuesday: at Anaheim
Thursday: at Los Angeles
Saturday: at Dallas
Monday: vs. Chicago
Wednesday: at Colorado
Friday: at Arizona

This rendition of the Oilers has passed some challenging tests, and even when they’ve failed, they’ve mostly done so with their heads held high.

This upcoming stretch might be the biggest “sink or swim” moment for the Oilers so far in 2016-17.

Tuukka Rask isn’t that far behind Carey Price right now

Getty
8 Comments

If you’re talking about the hottest goalies in the NHL right now, Carey Price is likely the first name to come to mind. Don’t forget about Tuukka Rask, though.

Rask improved to 10-1-0 while grabbing his third shutout of the season as the Boston Bruins beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-0 on Sunday.*

Carey Price? He’s sitting at 10-0-0 with two shutouts and impeccable individual stats. So far, Rask and Price are both enjoying rebound seasons – one from inconsistency, the other from injury – and their teams clearly see the difference when they’re not around.

The Bruins are 10-1-0 with Rask in net and 0-5-0 without him. It’s not too shocking that Claude Julien elected to have Rask start back-to-back games this weekend, a gamble that paid off handsomely. He was perfect tonight and only allowed one goal against the Coyotes on Saturday.

Much like Price, Rask is making early-season franchise history for his team.

Want a quick side-by-side look at two of the top goalies in 2016-17 so far? Here you go:

Rask: 10-1-0, 308 shots faced, .945 save percentage, 1.54 GAA, three shutouts
Price: 10-0-0, 323 shots faced, .957 save percentage, 1.40 GAA, two shutouts

Tough to find two better starts than those, right?

***

Rask and the Bruins now get a break … their next game isn’t until Thursday.

Maybe there’s a slight concern that Rask will cool off a bit with such a breather, but considering his potential workload, he could probably use the break.

And maybe it will give more people time to realize how special his play has been so far.

* – Semyon Varlamov was superb on Sunday, by the way, making 45 out of 46 saves while Rask only needed 20 stops for a shutout. Sometimes hockey is cruel, especially when a goalie like Rask or Price is in the other net.

Blackhawks beat Canadiens in clash of conference leaders

Getty
6 Comments

In a match between the top team in the East and the top team in the West, the Chicago Blackhawks edged the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Sunday.

Of course, it’s early. And the deck was stacked against the Habs to some extent.

Chicago needed this more

If you’re going to beat the Canadiens (now 13-2-1) this season, you’re going to do it with the Habs on the road and Al Montoya in net. Those factors were in the Blackhawks’ favor on Sunday, as was rest: Chicago last played on Friday while Montreal throttled Detroit 5-0 on Saturday.

So, yeah, the Blackhawks “should” have won this game.

This was also far more crucial to the Blackhawks, and not for deep psychological reasons.

The Blackhawks begin a seven-game road trip (and will play eight of nine away from the United Center) on Tuesday while the Canadiens hope to keep their robust home-ice advantage going with four of their next five in Montreal.

Two hot teams

This isn’t to take too much away from the Blackhawks, of course.

They’ve been fantastic lately, as they’re now on an 11-game point streak (9-0-2). After starting with two regulation losses, they’ve generated a point in all but one of their last 14 contests (11-1-2).

That probably counts as “almost as hot as the Canadiens,” and now they have the bragging rights against the young upstarts.

We’ll have to wait until March 14 to see these two teams play again. If they’re once more on top of their respective conferences, it could be an even bigger treat than this early appetizer ended up being.

And it was pretty sweet: