James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Letang isn’t quite ready to return for Penguins vs. Flyers

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have been flourishing with the return of one key player in Sidney Crosby, but they won’t get another one back tonight. Kris Letang can’t go against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Letang hasn’t played since Oct. 18 thanks to an upper-body injury.

It’s a disappointment that he’ll sit out this rivalry match, but there’s still optimism that he’s nearing a return.

“He will not be in the lineup tonight,” Head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s making strides and getting closer. We’re hopeful we will get him back soon.”

Pittsburgh’s next game doesn’t come until Wednesday, so maybe he can get back in the mix by then.

Tonight’s game in Philly begins a set of four road games for the Penguins (which includes a three-game swing against the tough California teams).

The Penguins face a challenging November – nine away contests vs. five games at home – so rushing Letang into action could be counterproductive.

Hamilton helps Flames push winning streak to three games

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) Dougie Hamilton scored his first two goals and added an assist to lead the Calgary Flames to a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Friday night for their third straight win.

Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan and Michael Frolik also scored for Calgary, and Brian Elliott stopped 31 shots.

Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris scored for Ottawa. Andrew Hammond started in goal and had three saves on four shots before leaving with a lower-body injury after one period. Chris Dreidger replaced him and gave up four goals on 15 shots.

With the score tied 2-2 halfway through the second, Hamilton retrieved the puck from the sideboards, spun and whipped a shot from a bad angle over the Dreidger’s shoulder.

Calgary put the game away on goals by Monahan and Frolik 2:46 apart midway through the third. Monahan scored his fourth on a wicked slap shot off a pass from Johnny Gaudreau, who had his second assist of the night. Frolik completed the scoring with his fourth of the year.

After a rocky first three starts in a Flames uniform in which he gave up 14 goals on 87 shots, Elliott has been much sharper his last three starts yielding just five goals on 88 shots.

Ottawa’s 2-1 lead to start the second period didn’t last long. Bennett fired in a centering pass from Alex Chiasson just 1:25 into the period to tie it.

Bennett has goals in three consecutive games and has six points during a four-game point streak.

The story of the first period was Ottawa’s 30th-ranked power play, which looked anything like that.

Trailing 1-0, the Senators needed just 4 seconds on their first man-advantage for Karlsson to tie the game.

Two minutes later, Ottawa went back to the extra man and converted again, with Turris’ shot eluding Elliott, who was screened by Zack Smith.

NOTES: Senators starting goalie Craig Anderson, coming off a shutout in Vancouver on Tuesday, was granted a leave from the team to attend to a personal matter. … Driedger, who played three seasons of junior hockey for the Calgary Hitmen (WHL), appeared in his third NHL game – all in relief. … Calgary first-round pick Matthew Tkachuk played in his seventh game, creeping closer to the point where the Flames need to make a decision on whether to send him back to London of the OHL. If he plays in a 10th game, the first year of his entry-level contract will kick-in.

UP NEXT

Senators: At Edmonton on Sunday night before returning home for three games in five days.

Flames: Host Washington on Sunday night before heading out on a four-game trip.

Oilers continue best start in 30 years

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Connor McDavid is the most exciting thing that’s happened to the Edmonton Oilers since the gravy days of Wayne Gretzky, so it only makes sense that he’s powering the team’s best start in three decades.

OK, that’s not totally fair; Cam Talbot deserves a ton of the credit for their five-game winning streak and 7-1-0 record, too.

More on how this is Edmonton’s hottest start in ages

Those two stole the headlines once again on Friday. McDavid’s blazing speed was display on the only goal as Talbot and the Oilers blanked the Vancouver Canucks 1-0.

It’s tempting to obsess about McDavid’s heroics, but the bottom line is that Talbot might just be the Oilers player who is on the hottest streak. He has now only allowed a single goal in the past three games.

So much for the Oilers merely out-scoring their problems, huh?

Blackhawks come through in clutch vs. Devils

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If the Chicago Blackhawks end up being a bubble team like many expect, they’ll need wins like these.

For the third straight game, they managed to come behind to score at least a point. In Friday’s case, they fought back from a 2-1 deficit to beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in overtime.

Marian Hossa scored the tying goal with less than three minutes remaining in regulation:

Artem Anisimov continued his red-hot start to 2016-17 with the clinching tally:

Call it “finding a way to win” if you’d like, but the bottom line is that they’re finishing recent games on a high note. They’ve forced the last three contests to at least go beyond regulation thanks to clutch third period goals, going 2-0-1 in games they were at risk of losing outright.

Hey, whatever works.

Goalie hope for Jets? Hutchinson shuts down Avs

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DENVER (AP) Shawn Matthias scored in the second period against his former team, Michael Hutchinson stopped 37 shots for his third career NHL shutout and the Winnipeg Jets beat the Colorado Avalanche 1-0 on Friday night.

The Jets were more energetic despite playing their third game in four days, including a 4-1 win over Dallas the night before. Colorado looked a bit rusty after a week off and couldn’t to solve Hutchinson. It was Hutchinson’s first shutout since Jan. 15, 2015, against Columbus.

The Avalanche pulled Semyon Varlamov with around 1:22 remaining, but couldn’t capitalize.

Varlamov stopped 20 shots, his only mistake not sliding over in time to stop Matthias’ wrist shot.

Colorado, which had a 20-4 advantage on shots in the third, went on the power play late in the period and had a golden chance with Hutchinson down on the ice. But Rene Bourque’s shot from out front appeared to hit forward Brandon Tanev and sail wide of the net.

Hutchinson also came up big midway through the third period by stopping Joe Colborne, who coasted in all alone and tried to thread the puck between Hutchinson’s legs.

Colorado’s alternate blue sweater hasn’t exactly been lucky. The team is 5-9-1 since the jersey’s debut last season.

Jarome Iginla remains in a goal-scoring funk. He had a point-blank shot moments into the third period and was thwarted by Hutchinson. Iginla has just one goal so far this season. He’s 16th on the league’s all-time goal-scoring list.

Matthias gave the Jets 1-0 lead at 8:29 of the second period when he guided in a perfect cross-ice pass from Joel Armia. Matthias played for the Avalanche last season after being acquired in a February deal with Toronto. He had six goals in 20 games for Colorado.

The Jets nearly had a power-play goal midway through the first period when Mark Scheifele poked in a shot between the pads of Varlamov. But the officials blew the whistle just before the puck rolled into the net.

Scheifele pleaded to no avail.

Patrik Laine, the No. 2 overall pick in June who already has six goals, unleashed a few quality shots only to be turned back by Varlamov. Laine is good friends with Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen, who was making his season debut after being called up from San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

They pair helped Team Finland to the 2016 world junior hockey championship. They also practiced together this summer.

“It will be fun,” Rantanen said of the friendly rival.

Rantanen was the 10th overall pick in 2015. His locker once belonged to Avalanche standout Milan Hejduk.

“Maybe Mikko will take the great energy that was in that stall,” captain Gabriel Landeskog cracked.

NOTES: Jets D Dustin Byfuglien recorded the 800th penalty minute of his career with a tripping call in the second period. He also was called for another penalty in the closing seconds. … F Drew Stafford missed a second straight game with an upper-body injury. … D Fedor Tyutin (groin) sat out a second straight game. … F John Mitchell (hip) made his season debut.

UP NEXT

Jets: Host Buffalo on Sunday.

Avalanche: At Arizona on Saturday in their second back-to-back set this season.