James O'Brien

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

Canucks best Ducks, thwart Kesler, Bieksa


For a while there, it looked like the Anaheim Ducks might manage yet another 1-0 win, even without John Gibson in the net.

That didn’t hold, however, as Chris Tanev ended the Ducks’ lengthy streak of perfect goaltending, and that essentially did the job, as the Vancouver Canucks managed a 2-1 shootout win.

Seriously, it had been quite a while since someone scored against the Ducks.

The loss stings, but Anaheim continues to scrap its way into the future.

Yes, they lost, but the Ducks are now on a five-game point streak (3-0-2). Maybe even more promising: the Ducks will start an eight-game homestand on Sunday after a lengthy, largely successful road trip.

Vancouver takes plenty of positives out of this span beyond the obvious two standings points from this one.

The Canucks also scored a little personal pride win in defeating Kevin Bieksa and especially Ryan Kesler in their return to Vancouver. It got that much sweeter since Kesler clearly enjoyed scoring against Anaheim.

Seeing the home team (“good guys”) win is always sweet, but it’s even better against a quality “villain” lik Kesler, right?

Flyers’ Umberger is sick to his stomach about 39-game goal drought


Would-be sniper R.J. Umberger hasn’t scored a goal in almost a half-season worth of hockey.

His current goal-less streak is at 39 games, with 21 of them coming in the 2015-16 season.

While goals aren’t the only way Umberger can contribute for the Philadelphia Flyers (he has five assists this season and seven overall during that 39-game span), it’s been tough to look away from his struggles.

Even Umberger admitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer that he’s personally having a tough time with this slump.

“It’s frustrating. If I think about it, it makes me sick to my stomach,” Umberger said. “It’s not for a lack of trying or wanting to score goals. I’ve scored goals my entire career – scored a lot of goals – and you never dream you’ll ever go through a spell like this.”

The effort may be there, but the chances are not.

Umberger has only fired 24 shots on goal in 21 games so far this season, barely more than one per contest. Looking back to his season-ending slump in 2014-15, Umberger wasn’t getting that many chances either, with just 23 shots on goal in 18 contests. You’d think one of 47 shots on goal would go in, but that’s really not that big of a total in 39 games.

Granted, as a player uncomfortably transitioning at least short-term into a fourth-line role, the shots might not come very often.

That’s really the only way a sniper can get on the board, though. Saying “shoot more often” seems stupidly obvious but … how else can a guy with multiple 20-goal seasons to his name break out of this funk?

It’s the kind of talk that might leave you a little, well, sick to your stomach.

Unlike Kesler, Bieksa gets warm reception in return to Vancouver


Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa were with the Vancouver Canucks for a similar length of time – each player spent about a decade with the team – but fans greeted their returns very differently.

When Kesler came back with the Anaheim Ducks in November 2014, the reaction was mostly negative, and he admitted it hurt. Then he acted like Vancouver visits became no big deal.

Bieksa made his return visit to Vancouver – also wearing a Ducks jersey – on Friday night, and instead of mixed-at-best reactions, he received a standing ovation.

You can watch video of the Bieksa tribute above this post’s headline. For comparison’s sake, Kesler’s clip is below; that’s about as warm as it got for him that night, apparently.

To the Canucks’ credit, they seemed to acknowledge both Bieksa and Kesler pretty fairly.

Stewart draws into Ducks lineup; Andersen starts instead of Gibson


The Anaheim Ducks will have Chris Stewart in their lineup for the first time since Dec. 21.

Chances are, Stewart is likely to either fight, score, fight and score or just sort of slip under the radar against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.

Jiri Sekac appears to be the odd man out in this exchange:

The Ducks are on a three-game winning streak, including two straight shutouts by John Gibson, but it’s not like they’ve been blowing out opponents with consecutive 1-0 victories.

Speaking of those shutouts, Gibson is getting a breather in favor of Frederik Andersen.

In some ways that might seem baffling, yet Gibson played on Thursday and has been the guy in net for more than a week now, so why not take a bigger picture view by getting Andersen some reps and Gibson some rest?

(Yes, that last point might indeed seem dumb in retrospect if the Ducks have a rough night.)

With Bishop a little banged up, Lightning recall Vasilevskiy


The Tampa Bay Lightning don’t have a game on the docket on Friday, yet it’s been a busy day in their net.

One scare was, at least at this point, more of a bullet allegedly dodged: Ben Bishop left practice early on, but just for precautionary reasons.

So … maybe this isn’t technically directly related then, even if feels that way, but regardless: the Lightning brought up Andrei Vasilevskiy from the AHL while demoting Kristers Gudlevskis.

Again, this may have been a part of the plan:

While that seems a little murky, there’s a chance Ondrej Palat may be able to return soon, so that’s a nice plus for a Lightning team that’s still trying to find its footing.