James O'Brien

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

Carey Price admits first game back was an ‘adventure’


Of course it wasn’t going to be easy for Carey Price to play for the first time in about 10 months, especially in a “best vs. best” format.

He isn’t in denial about facing some turbulence in Canada’s 4-2 exhibition loss to the United States from Friday, either.

“It was a little bit of an adventure at times, but I kind of expected that,” Price said, according to Sportsnet. “It’s not easy to be out for that long and just pick it up right away. I knew there was going to be some work to do, but I’m glad to get that one over with.”

Yes, he probably wasn’t too happy with some of the goals he allowed, like this Patrick Kane tally:

(Kane even said he’d probably want that one back, as NHL.com notes.)

It’s not fair to lay it all on Price – even if that might be a reflex from how much the Montreal Canadiens often expect of him – as he faced a flurry of shots in the first period. Some of that is on the nasty tempo of Friday’s game and the level of competition.

Price has the right perspective on what this was: an opportunity to shake off the rust when the stakes are lower.

“The third period I started to feel good finally,” Price said, via NHL.com. “I wasn’t going in there expecting to play like I was in the middle of November. It was nice to get my feet wet and move on.”

And, hey, it gives people a chance to warm up their jokes as well.

2016 World Cup of Hockey – Saturday’s exhibition games


Want a quick rundown of Saturday’s three 2016 World Cup of Hockey exhibition games? You’re in luck.

Russia at Czech Republic (10:30 a.m. ET, on ESPN3, Sportsnet, TVA Sports)

Team Russia took the first game (4-3 score) between the two on Thursday. We get another reminder of Alex Ovechkin and the rest of Russia’s formidable fleet of forwards.

With Vladimir Sobotka banged up, the Czechs might limp through this game:

Finland at Sweden (noon ET on ESPN3, Sportsnet, TVA Sports)

Finland won round one between these rivals by a score of 3-2. One of the stories to follow comes in Finland’s net, as Tuukka Rask might take Pekka Rinne‘s spot this time around and may face Henrik Lundqvist on the other end.

This contest may jog your memory about Sweden’s ridiculous wealth of defense, by the way. The mass of blueliners might help:

U.S. at Canada (7 p.m. ET, on ESPN3, Sportsnet, TVA Sports)

More than just an exhibition game. Maybe more than a little unfriendly. Possibly more on this later today.

For even more on the contests, check below:

Toews, Crosby, Kane discuss that nasty U.S. – Canada exhibition


When given a chance to say nasty things about that nasty 4-2 loss against the U.S., Canadian players mostly refused to take the bait.

Jonathan Toews probably said the most, admitting that matches between the two countries are “not just any exhibition games” to many players.

“Without saying too much, I think there were a couple of borderline hits there where our guys were put in some awkward positions and there’s not much you can do there,” Toews said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “The one on Weber was the right call there. We just have to try and protect ourselves and expect that the officials are going to do what they have to do. We have no problem with the chippiness and the physical play (but) it doesn’t matter where you’re playing, I think you always have to respect the player when he has his back to you.”

Toews’ phrasing was the key there, really, as those were the closest you could find to “explosive” comments considering the attitudes displayed on the ice.

As this TSN mash-up of comments suggests, the likes of Toews, Sidney Crosby and Carey Price were pretty guarded about handing out inflammatory bulletin board material.

Even so, Crosby did acknowledge some “late hits” while Price nodded to moments that “crossed the line.” Player seemed to appreciate that they stood up for each other, including situations where Shea Weber was the recipient and the aggressor of some “chippy” play.

U.S. players aren’t oblivious to the obvious heat between the two teams, as NHL.com reports.

“When the U.S. plays Canada, you’re going to get that type of game whether it’s an exhibition, preliminary game, semifinal or final; you’re going to find yourself in that situation in this rivalry,” Patrick Kane said.

In that case, it should be that much more interesting to watch how the two teams behave in another exhibition tonight. Perhaps the most important note is that there reportedly won’t be any additional discipline heading into the warm-up:

Without a captain, Hurricanes lead together


RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Hurricanes don’t have a captain. They think they still have plenty of leaders.

A young team hoping to finally break through to the postseason figures to take a leadership-by-committee approach to the season with nobody yet promoted to fill the captaincy void created by Eric Staal‘s trade last season.

Clearly establishing which – and how many – players will lead an inexperienced but promising team will be a top priority once training camp begins in the coming days. Of the 44 skaters on the roster, 32 of them are 24 years old or younger.

“With Eric leaving, everybody knows how big of a hole that is in that aspect of the room,” forward Jordan Staal said Friday. “I know it’s not all going to fall on one guy’s shoulders. It’s a team sport, and there’s going to be a lot of guys ready to step up in different roles regarding leadership, including myself.”

The Hurricanes somehow played their best hockey of last season immediately after they traded Eric Staal to the New York Rangers at the trading deadline, earning points in 12 of the 14 games that followed the trade to mount a last-gasp push for their first playoff berth since 2009.

With nobody wearing the “C” that was vacated by Staal, the Hurricanes are counting on multiple voices to help make up for it. Jordan Staal and defenseman Justin Faulk both wore the “A” as alternate captains last season and they expect their teammates – even the ones who won’t wear a letter – to step up and take ownership of the team.

Some of the players who’ll lead either vocally or by example include:

– Forward Jeff Skinner. He had team-bests of 28 goals and 51 points, and though he’s just 24, the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2010 is one of the longest-tenured players on the roster.

– Defenseman Ron Hainsey. At 35, he is the oldest player on the roster – nine years older than the second-oldest defenseman, Matt Tennyson, and has skated in 835 NHL games during his 13-year career.

Cam Ward. While goalies aren’t captains, Ward is the last remaining link to both the Stanley Cup-winning team in 2006 and to Carolina’s last playoff team in 2009. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP in 2006 was given a two-year, $6.6 million extension that allowed him to avoid free agency and stay with the only NHL organization he’s ever known.

“There are a lot of guys in the room that lead, and if that’s the way it is, I don’t think it changes much,” Faulk said. “Guys are still going to do their same thing, whether there is a captain or not, and that’s what we’ve kind of had the last couple of years, even with some of the older guys.

“It’s been good. … There always is more than one guy that’s doing their part to step up in different ways,” he added. “Not everyone leads the same way and it’s good to have a bunch of guys with differing opinions.”

Knee injury recovery appears touch-and-go for Coyotes’ Stone


Off-season storylines tend to have their tropes, like players saying that they’re entering the season “100 percent” or (gulp) “in the best shape of their life.”

Every now and then, a little more honesty bleeds into talks of injury rehabs, and it sounds like Arizona Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone acknowledges the genuine discomfort and anxiety that comes from recovering from a knee issue.

He spoke to the Arizona Republic about refraining from skating for four months, the longest span of inactivity since his childhood.

From the sound of things, he still feels his knee during this part of the process, especially when the adrenaline wears off. Could he be ready by the regular season? The answer seems to be an optimistic maybe.

“As long as I’m doing everything fine and we don’t have any issues, then I think that’s realistic,” Stone said. “But it’s so hard to tell because I’m still not doing game situations.”

Coyotes GM John Chayka seemed to share the same positive-yet-mixed feelings about Stone’s chances to come in healthy.

You have to wonder if the 26-year-old might feel a little pressure to rush back or fight through the pain. He received a one-year contract extension for $4 million, so there’s some security, yet he’s in that middle-of-the-pack where he could either earn more term or find himself approaching a journeyman path.

That’s especially true since the Coyotes loaded up on defense during the summer and seem primed to get better and better as time goes on.

It must leave Stone feeling like he’s on shaky ground even when his knee doesn’t feel too wobbly.