James O'Brien

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

Crosby: Penguins expect Sharks to be ‘really desperate’ in Game 3

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) The San Jose Sharks can take at least one positive out of losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh.

Despite being severely outplayed for almost the entire two games, the Sharks still managed to lose by only one goal with the game-winner coming in the final three minutes of Game 1 and in overtime in Game 2.

If the Sharks can somehow neutralize Pittsburgh’s decided edge in speed and get back to playing the style of play that got them this far for the first time ever they might be able to get back into the series when it shifts to San Jose for Game 3 on Saturday night.

“In the playoffs, things are magnified so much,” Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said Friday. “You lose a game and it’s a close game you think about a big opportunity that you let slide away. But when you go over the film and watch the games, it’s right there for us. We got better from Game 1. Game 2 was a lot better. We haven’t played our best hockey yet.”

The odds facing the Sharks are daunting. Of the 49 teams that have taken a 2-0 lead since the final went to the best-of-seven format in 1939, 44 have won the Cup. Teams winning the first two games at home have won 33 of 36 series.

But the Penguins know better than to start planning any parades. Two of those three teams to rally after losing the first two games on the road have done it in the past seven years, including Pittsburgh itself in 2009 against Detroit. Boston also overcame a 2-0 deficit to Vancouver in 2011.

“We’ve talked about it,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who played on that 2009 team. “You expect a really desperate hockey team. They’re only focused on winning one game. All their energy and everything is toward just tomorrow night. We’ve all been in situations where you put all that energy and all that focus toward one game and you know they will be at their best.”

Outside of a strong second period in the opener and a good push late in regulation in Game 2 when San Jose tied the game and nearly scored the go-ahead goal, the Penguins have been the better team.

They have a 71-48 edge in shots on goal, considerably more dangerous scoring chances and have forced the Sharks defense into the kinds of mistakes they didn’t make the first three rounds.

“They’ve done a good job keeping the puck in their zone, using their forecheck and making it tough on us,” defenseman Justin Braun said. “We’ve had a little trouble sustaining pressure. We’ve been one and out. They’ve had a couple of chances. That’s been a big difference.”

With Pittsburgh also doing a good job staying out of the penalty box, San Jose’s potent power play has had only three chances through two games and delivered one of the team’s three goals.

The Sharks say those lack of chances have been more about their play then the calls by officials.

“We’re not giving ourselves that opportunity,” center Logan Couture said. “We’re not playing with the puck enough. We’re not forcing them to play in their zone tired. That’s when penalties usually happen, at the end of long shifts. It’s up to us as players to force them to play in their zone.”

The Sharks did generate more chances when coach Peter DeBoer shuffled his lines in the third period of Game 2, dropping Patrick Marleau from second-line wing to third-line center and moving Joel Ward up to the second line.

He switched them back for practice but did not say how he would utilize his lines in Game 3. Top-line winger Tomas Hertl also missed practice on Friday for what DeBoer described as “maintenance” but he didn’t commit to Hertl playing Saturday.

One change that will happen is the shift in venues. Pittsburgh last played out of the Eastern Time Zone on Jan. 18 in St. Louis and hasn’t been to the West Coast since Dec. 6 in Anaheim before Mike Sullivan took over as coach.

The Sharks will have last change and a loud crowd behind them for the first Stanley Cup Final game ever in San Jose.

“We expect a really hard start and a good team,” Penguins forward Nick Bonino said. “These last two games have been decided very late, each one. They’re a great team. They’re going to come out really hard and we’ll have to match that.”

Results, amusing photos and more from the 2016 NHL Draft Combine

via Winnipeg Jets

Being photographed at the height of physical exertion is pretty awkward.

You know what time is best for getting a funny photo of an athlete? Probably at the height of physical exertion.

The 2016 NHL Draft Scouting Combine wrapped up this weekend, and with that, we got a bevvy of results that test a very specific set of physical skills (pull-ups!). You can look up the top guys in a handful of tests with the league’s list here.

That’s an awful lot of arduous work, though, so here’s a smattering of interesting tidbits and the occasional awkward photo.

The Sabres hosted the combine, so it’s not a huge surprise that they collected some great stuff.

Here’s the most pertinent bit for those eyeing the draft, particularly if you’re eyeing a pick below No. 1 (at least if you’re assuming Auston Matthews is going to Toronto).

This year, Jakob Chychrun, ranked as the top North American defenseman by NHL CSS, placed in the top 10 on four tests. Fellow defenseman Logan Stanley finished atop the Wingate bike test with a time of 12:30 while goalie Carter Hart topped the VO2max.


The combine also includes interviews, which involves maybe some important questions but also … people asking a Russian prospect how often he shaves?

Your latest bit of evidence that goalies aren’t just becoming larger … they’re also progressing as all-around athletes.

Keep in mind certain athletes didn’t participate or did not participate fully.

As you would expect, plenty of eyes were on Matthews.

Excellently named prospect Sam Steel enjoyed himself.

The Jets provide a gallery of Combine photos for your future Photoshopping needs.

Ah, the Combine. How much of a difference does it make when it comes to drafting better players? It’s difficult to say, but for now, we have aerobic tests and funny faces.


The Sabres hope to keep the Combine in Buffalo

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 3 – Penguins at Sharks

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So far, the 2016 Stanley Cup Final has been lopsided at times … at least in terms of level of play.

The bottom line, though, is that while the Pittsburgh Penguins are up 2-0, the San Jose Sharks haven’t been getting dominated on the scoreboard. Game 1 came down to a late Nick Bonino goal while Game 2 needed an early overtime marker to decide an outcome.

Could a change of scenery tip the scales in the Sharks’ favor?

You can find out by tuning in to NBCSN and checking out the livestream via the link below. Enjoy pre-game coverage and all the fun:


Just for Men: Joe Thornton


This Just for Men series touched on Joe Thornton briefly when we lavished attention on the lavish beard boasted by Brent Burns, but some beards are worth revisiting.

(See: the Dynasty-era New York Islanders.)

Quite frankly, Jumbo Joe’s jumbo-beard might just best Brent Burns’ Brillo chin.

Consider this very serious breakdown:

Thornton’s beard is a thing of awe. It’s the sort of thing that inspires people to Photoshop his beard on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ faces. The combined might of the Sharks’ shear-breaking beards even inspired some (presumably hairy) chest-puffing:

Just consider how far he’s come from a facial-hair-standpoint:

Much like with Burns, this series really needs to take a moment to thank the patient significant others of the bodaciously bearded. Even those who may enjoy a little gruff must be itching to see Thornton’s beard go soon enough.

Is it too early to miss Thornton’s beard?

(His wife says no.)

Stunner: Justin Braun sends Game 2 into overtime


As much as the Pittsburgh Penguins were taking it to the San Jose Sharks during most of Game 2, there was that sneaking feeling that the Sharks were just a bounce or two away.

That suspicion ended up being justified as the Penguins couldn’t make their 1-0 goal lead stick, even though they generated plenty of chances.

A Justin Braun shot made its way through traffic and maybe took a bounce or two before beating Matt Murray with mere minutes remaining in the third period of Game 2.

That goal, which you can see above, made it 1-1 and helped to send this contest to overtime, the first bit of beyond-regulation play of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Braun enjoyed a nice moment during what has certainly been a trying time off the ice.

This is the first overtime contest since the 2014 championship round, by the way.