James O'Brien

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

Kings ride weird goal to beat Red Wings


If you looked at the scoreboard alone, you’d think that the Los Angeles Kings played like the more desperate team in pushing the fading Detroit Red Wings to eight consecutive losses (0-7-1).

That makes sense, as the Kings did take care of business on Thursday, and they ended up winning 4-1.

Still, it wasn’t anywhere near as easy as that final score indicates. For one thing, Anze Kopitar‘s game-winning goal was a weird one, and must really bum Jared Coreau out as he had been playing well considering his recent struggles:

Tyler Toffoli and Dustin Brown scored late goals to drive up the margin, but who knows if it would have been as smooth of a ride for Los Angeles if the above bounce didn’t go the Kings’ way?

This isn’t to say that the Kings played poorly, mind you, just that it was a close, low-event game. To an extent, it was very much the type of game Los Angeles was able to grind out during the gravy days of Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, and others.

This win gives the Kings 84 points in 71 games played. This gives them a shot at catching the Sharks for the second seed (85 points in 70 GP), but first things first, the Kings strengthened their grip on the third spot in the Pacific and a playoff spot in general. The Ducks and Flames also only have 11 games left like the Kings, but Anaheim’s parked at 82 points while Calgary has 80.

From a big picture sense, this wasn’t all bad for Detroit.

At this point, they’re better off losing, at least when they can do so while “keeping their heads high.” That probably applies here, as they were able to play the Kings hard while also leaving without any standings points. With 63 points in 70 games, Detroit could conceivably sink below the Senators (61 points in 69 GP) among some other cellar dwellers.

So, really, both teams did what they needed to do on Thursday, even if it wasn’t always pretty.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

LOL, OEL: Ref elbows Coyotes defenseman


The phrase “adding insult to injury” might not suffice in this case.

Consider this: Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson already wasn’t happy with being whistled for matching penalties alongside Nashville Predators forward Craig Smith on Thursday. If that wasn’t enough, an official elbowed him in the nose on accident while making the motion to call him for a penalty.

If you needed a little comic relief tonight, the video above this post’s headline really should do the trick. Possibly even if you’re a woebegotten Coyotes fan.

At least one person (whoever runs Five for Howling’s Twitter feed tonight) deemed this the reverse Dennis Wideman treatment:

Hey, on the bright side, the Coyotes have been playing better lately, and OEL already has a goal tonight.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blue Jackets shrink Flyers’ playoff buffer


The Columbus Blue Jackets are streaking; the Philadelphia Flyers just can’t stop from being streaky.

Columbus edged Philly 5-3 on Thursday, extending a winning streak to six games.

Cam Atkinson managed a hat trick by scoring his third goal with about a second remaining in the contest, Artemi Panarin collected two assists, and the Blue Jackets once again enjoyed nice offense from defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski (an assist apiece).

Again, this simply seems to continue the Flyers’ trend of either being hot or cold. Lately, Philly has been traveling in the wrong direction, as this represents losses in seven of eight games.

The Flyers have to hope that Brian Elliott‘s recent return to the ice signals a looming return to suiting up for NHL action, as Petr Mrazek‘s really been struggling lately. He was pulled from Thursday’s game early in the second period after allowing four goals on just 10 shots. The pending UFA has just one win in his last seven appearances, making it tough to remember that he rattled off three straight victories in late February.

This result didn’t push Philly out of the Metropolitan Division’s top three, but Columbus is breathing down their necks, and the Florida Panthers’ lopsided games in hand situation makes it difficult to tell how much of a buffer the Flyers possess overall.

Take a look at how the bubble looks now, which could end up being increasingly, uncomfortably relevant to Philly:

Third Metro: Flyers – 81 points in 71 games, 33 ROW

First WC: Blue Jackets – 81 points in 71 GP, 32 ROW

Second WC: Devils – 80 points in 70 GP, 31 ROW

Panthers – 77 points in 68 GP, 32 ROW

Bob adds some pizzazz to that playoff outlook. Thanks, Bob. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

As you can see, the Flyers could easily slip into the wild-card ranks thanks to threats from both the Devils and Blue Jackets. Again, they also can’t dismiss the Panthers if Florida can make the most of games in hand. (James Reimer did his part on Thursday, authoring a masterful shutout in a 3-0 win against the Boston Bruins.)

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Now, look, the Flyers still find themselves in a decent spot. While they face a closing schedule that’s pretty road-heavy, the Devils and Blue Jackets must struggle with similar challenges. The Panthers also need to stay hot to overtake one or more of those Metro bubble teams.

Still, it’s a bit jarring to see the Flyers even vulnerable to slipping out of the playoff picture, at least after they seemed to pull away from the pack.

Then again, for a team that once lost 10 in a row and then shook that off with a six-game winning streak, maybe that’s just how things are going to go for 2017-18? Ultimately, we’ll see where they land after navigating the peaks and valleys of a bumpy season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins avoid Niemi’s revenge for win

1 Comment

Nights like these remind you why the Pittsburgh Penguins often pay a big price to add depth. Nights like these also help explain why the Penguins decided that they had to hand Patric Hornqvist a contract extension.

Despite closing out a back-to-back set after allowing the Rangers to rally in OT last night, the Penguins played like the fresher team against the Montreal Canadiens, generating a 39-20 shots on goal advantage. Antti Niemi almost made the difference to get revenge against a team that discarded him as a backup earlier this season, but Hornqvist and the Penguins gutted out a 5-3 win tonight.

Niemi’s showcase was in the second period. Pittsburgh really flexed its muscles then, firing 18 shots on Niemi to only four for Montreal. Despite that disparity, each side scored one goal, and the two teams entered the final frame tied 3-3.

Hornqvist finally attempted a shot that even Niemi couldn’t stop, collecting the game-winner and also the 400th point of his career.

That was his second goal of the night, and Hornqvist also collected an assist, so he’s actually at 401. Not bad for a guy who was once “Mr. Irrelevant” as the final pick (230th overall) of the 2005 NHL Draft.

(There’s some sweet symmetry that Hornqvist, the final pick of that draft, has celebrated some fantastic victories with Sidney Crosby, who went first in 2005.)

Again, this was a game in which the Penguins’ depth allowed them to dominate a hungry (if reeling) opponent. Derick Brassard helped the Penguins begin a rally from down 2-0 by creating a turnover, then sending the puck to Bryan Rust, who found Phil Kessel for Pittsburgh’s first goal. If they can stay healthy, the Penguins’ playoff opponents will have to deal with the notion that, on any given night, Brassard can pick up the scoring burden if a team is slowing down Evgeni Malkin and/or Sidney Crosby.

You know, not that anyone has really been slowing down Malkin lately.

The Washington Capitals pasted the New York Islanders 7-3 tonight, so the Penguins weren’t able to make up ground in the battle to win the Metropolitan Division crown. (Both teams are at 87 standings points, but Washington holds two games in hand.)

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Pittsburgh seems increasingly likely to grab at least a round of home-ice advantage, though, as the Flyers seem like they might slip into a bubble battle with Columbus and New Jersey rather than posing a real threat as the second seed. Actually, with six straight wins, the Blue Jackets might be the greatest threat … but wins like these really give the Penguins some meaningful breathing room.

[The East playoff bubble intrigue increased on Thursday night.]

The Penguins probably grimaced at coughing up a lead against the Rangers last night, but by pushing through for a win in this one, they left a back-to-back set with three of four points. Maybe it’s not always pretty, but this veteran group is used to “finding ways to win,” as they proved once more on Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings at Kings

Leave a comment



Detroit Red Wings

Tyler BertuzziHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Darren HelmDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha

Justin AbdelkaderFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Martin FrkLuke Glendening — Evgeny Svechnikov

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Dan DeKeyserNick Jensen

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Starting goalie: Jared Coreau

[Red Wings – Kings preview.]

Los Angeles Kings

Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tobias RiederJeff CarterTrevor Lewis

Tanner PearsonAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli

Kyle CliffordMichael AmadioNate Thompson

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Dion PhaneufAlec Martinez

Jake Muzzin — Paul LaDue

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick