James O'Brien

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

Rask, power play help Julien get 400th win as Bruins coach

The Boston Bruins only scored three power-play goals through 11 games so far in 2016-17. They doubled that total by scoring three on Monday alone.

Boston really might not have needed that many, either, as Tuukka Rask remained red-hot with a shutout in a 4-0 defeat of the Buffalo Sabres.

It wasn’t a cruise of a shutout, either, with Rask needing to make 32 stops for his second goose egg of the season. You can dice up Rask’s numbers in a variety of ways, but let’s keep it simple: he has a sparkling 7-1-0 record and great individual stats.

Nights like these from Rask (and Tim Thomas, among others) have greatly benefited head coach Claude Julien, who won his 400th game as Bruins head coach via this contest.

Even-strength scoring machines Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak connected on the man advantage, yet David Krejci‘s power-play goal was likely the most important, big-picture-wise. Krejci finally scored his first goal of 2016-17 on a night where that happened more than once around the league.

He scored it with authority, too:

The Bruins are now 7-5-0 thanks to a stretch of four wins in five contests, and it’s not coincidence that Rask is heavily involved.

Now, if they can get that power play to produce more often, Julien’s wins totals will really start to climb.

Some relief for Islanders via Canucks’ ninth loss in a row

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The New York Islanders didn’t dominate all night long against the Vancouver Canucks, but they took over the third period in a 4-2 win on Monday.

It was tied after two periods, but the Islanders dominated the portion of the final frame that mattered (at one point the Isles had 11 shots on goal to just one by Vancouver), scoring both goals in the third.

With this result, the Isles broke a three-game slump while the Canucks are now on a jarring nine-game losing streak.

Vancouver hasn’t even been making it beyond regulation very often, as they’re 0-8-1 during that span. Hockey people are running out of ways to wonder about Willie Desjardins’ job security.

“We’ve got to find a way to win that game,” Daniel Sedin, who scored the game’s first goal, said. “It’s tough right now. We got the first one, then let them in it and played from behind.”

While the Canucks went out with a whimper, the Islanders have multiple players uttering sighs of relief. Andrew Ladd might be on the top of that list after scoring his first goal since signing a big deal to come to Brooklyn:

Jason Chimera and Nikolay Kulemin also found the net for their first goals of 2016-17, so this was a nice night for the Islanders, who have played well so far against the West.

It seems like facing the Canucks can cure some ills, at least for a night.

Buckle up, Crosby vs. McDavid Part 1 on Tuesday


The comparisons are inevitable. Connor McDavid understands it. So does Sidney Crosby.

Franchise centers don’t come along very often. Particularly ones with the skill set McDavid seems to share with the player he grew up idolizing. The footwork. The soft hands. The relentless energy. The ability to see something before it happens and the talent to make it so.

A decade ago, it was Crosby who took the NHL by storm. Now it’s McDavid’s turn. A year removed from an injury-marred rookie season in Edmonton, the 19-year-old will get a chance to face Crosby for the first time on Tuesday when the Oilers visit the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both players, as is their habit, are trying to downplay the meeting. Still, Crosby has a keen sense of where McDavid is at in his blossoming career and the weight placed on his shoulders. Back in 2006, Crosby was trying to do for the Penguins what McDavid is trying to do for the Oilers: lift a once proud team back to relevance, one highlight-reel play at a time.

Listen to Crosby rattle off the things that impress him about McDavid, and the two-time Hart Trophy winner might as well be describing himself.

“I just think his speed stands out the most,” Crosby said. “It allows him to do so many other things. He sees the ice really well. He’s so strong on the puck. His hockey sense and his speed are the things that stand out the most.”

They’ve been on display with regularity so far for Edmonton, which sits atop the Pacific Division, a solid start for a team trying to end a playoff drought that stretches back to when McDavid was still in elementary school. McDavid is tied for fourth in the NHL in points (14) and seventh in assists (nine), including a patient, heady dish to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the power play on Sunday that turned into the winning goal in a 2-1 victory in Detroit.

“He’s obviously one of the bright young players in the league,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I’m sure that team has taken another step and he’s a big reason why.”

Just don’t expect Sullivan do his part to make sure Crosby’s No. 87 ends up in the faceoff circle with McDavid’s No. 97. (Oh, there’s another similarity: both players using the year of their birth as their respective jersey numbers).

“I don’t really think too much about drama,” Sullivan said.

Besides, Crosby’s return to the lineup after a concussion that sidelined him for a few weeks last month has made the environment in Pittsburgh decidedly drama-free. The Penguins haven’t lost in regulation since Crosby came back (5-0-1), and the player who loves nothing more than to set up a teammate has suddenly become a little selfish, in a good way.

Crosby has eight goals in six games, including two each in the final two games of a road swing through California.

“Nothing surprises us,” Sullivan said. “He’s just a great player. I don’t know how else to say it. I think we’ve grown to expect it out of him and he’s done it each and every night. I really admire his consistency of play.”

And that more than anything else may be what McDavid wants to emulate about Crosby above all else.

“He’s the best player in the world and if you can take anything from his game, obviously that’ll help,” McDavid said.

Though they’ve run into each other occasionally in random places, Crosby hasn’t gone out of his way to reach out and give McDavid advice. Crosby doesn’t want to overstep, pointing out the Oilers have veterans to help guide McDavid as he navigates his first full season after a broken collarbone limited him to 45 games as a rookie.

Still, if there was one piece of advice Crosby will impart, it’s this: tune out the hype and just do what you do.

“The biggest thing is learning on the fly, see what works for you,” Crosby said. “Just remember what got you to this point and try to continue that success.”

AP Hockey Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.

Will Trouba get traded? Jets GM plays coy


Jacob Trouba is a Winnipeg Jet” is about the most the media could get out of Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff regarding the team finally signing the defenseman to a bargain deal on Monday.

It didn’t take long for people to speculate about the Jets flipping Trouba and his two-year, $6 million contract in a trade, but that’s what we’re stuck with at the moment: mere speculation.

As far as Cheveldayoff goes, he could even see Trouba suiting up for the Jets as early as their Tuesday home game against the Dallas Stars.

That’s not really what people are wondering about, though. Even if Trouba does play a bit for Winnipeg, some wonder if it’s just a matter of time before the Jets make a move.

There’s some history with a stalemate being broken only for a talented player to be moved later, after all.

Trouba is still a restricted free agent, so the bottom line is that the ball was and is in the Jets’ court.

This “bridge” deal really only postpones drama even if the blueliner goes back to becoming a regular contributor without much fuss. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston notes that Trouba could sign another contract as early as July 1.

Overall, it’s a great situation for the Jets, whether they trade Trouba or find a compromise that works for everyone.

Here’s the full Cheveldayoff press conference, if you’d like to get an idea about how the Jets GM was mostly – understandably – dodging questions:

No Filppula for Lightning tonight


Both the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning will be down at least a couple notable forwards in their Florida fight tonight.

The Lightning just announced that Valtteri Filppula won’t play on Monday, as he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury. With that, Filppula joins Jonathan Drouin on the sidelines.

Even with Jaromir Jagr back in commission, the Panthers aren’t at full-strength, either. They’ll face the Bolts without Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad.

Despite these issues, this game should serve as an interesting barometer for both teams.