James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Video: Two streaks end at once as Johansen scores against Dubnyk

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We saw a case of “Finally, already?” on Thursday between the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators.

Finally: Ryan Johansen scored his first goal since his scary surgery during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, not to mention signing that big contract. And someone finally scored a goal against Devan Dubnyk, who was riding a three-game shutout streak.

Already: Johansen managed that goal just 49 seconds into Thursday’s game:

In a lot of cases of noteworthy players not scoring goals, the message is not to panic, and that’s true to an extent with Johansen.

The concern with the talented center is that he’s just not shooting much at all. He came into Thursday’s action with just 23 shots on goal through 17 games, not that much more than one per contest. By Hockey Reference’s numbers, he’s gone from almost two-and-a-half SOG per game during his Columbus days (2.30, with those numbers climbing as he established himself) to less than two per night in Nashville (1.94).

Some of that comes from the linemates Johansen plays with, as Filip Forsberg is one of the NHL’s most underrated snipers and Viktor Arvidsson is one heck of a volume shooter. Still, there’s a balance to strike; even the Joe Thorntons of the world should “keep goalies honest” by firing the puck instead of making a play every now and then. In that regard, Johansen reminds a bit of Ryan Getzlaf, as there’s another shooting talent there that you’d ideally like to see him call his own number more often.

Perhaps scoring a goal like this – on a nice play, but from an odd angle – might encourage Johansen to fire a way just a bit more?

For more on Dubnyk’s streak, check out this post.

This game ended up being a high-scoring affair, with the Wild rallying for a 6-4 win. Bruce Boudreau’s feelings: mixed.

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.

Awesome dog Charlie drops puck before Hurricanes – Islanders (Video)

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Every now and then, you get that rare opportunity to celebrate two of your favorite things coming together.

Beavis and Butt-Head reuniting for a season. Peanut butter and chocolate teaming up in many glorious candy bar iterations. High on that list: dogs and hockey.

So, kudos to VetDogs.org and the New York Islanders for sharing this treat with us, and credit Charlie with not treating the puck as an actual treat:

Not going to lie, it bums me out a bit that superb dog Charlie didn’t get to “shake hands” with John Tavares and Justin Faulk, but it might have confused the pup, who’s being trained to help a U.S. army veteran.

Charlie seems to be a star at the site, as the front page features “Support Charlie and the Vet Dogs mission,” which is driving a fundraising effort. You can even follow along for … “pupdates.”

There’s a ton of video on Charlie, and it’s pretty much all great. Apparently Charlie was quite the hit on “The Today Show,” and the good news is that all this spotlight isn’t going to his furry head.

Hopefully I’m not speaking out of turn when I upgrade Charlie from “very good dog” to extremely good dog.

Here’s another cool moment from tonight:

More dog fun at PHT:

Watch some very good dogs race during AHL game (Video)

Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s dog paintings are very good.

Teams celebrate National Dog Day, and it is good.

Matt Murray, pup, Stanley Cup.

Dog gets ice time with puck.

Hampus Lindholm’s absurdly cute, skate-sized puppy.

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

Brawl fallout: Witkowski suspended 10 games, phone hearing for Tkachuk

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As a lapsed fan of the Phoenix Suns, part of me will never totally get over the time Steve Nash’s teammates were automatically suspended for barely stepping onto the court before remembering the NBA’s rules.

The NHL shares the NBA’s tendency to be sticklers about rules that don’t allow room for subjectivity, so it’s not much of a surprise that a wide variety of reporters confirm that Luke Witkowski of the Detroit Red Wings will receive an automatic 10-game suspension for returning to the ice during last night’s wild brawl. (See it in the video above this post’s headline.)

Red Wings GM Ken Holland confirmed the suspension to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James, while Sportsnet’s John Shannon backed up his colleague Nick Kypreos’ report, just to name a few that backed up news. The suspension will run through Dec. 9.

Shannon also backs up Kypreos in this regard: the NHL will hold a phone hearing with Calgary Flames troublemaker Matthew Tkachuk. This typically calls for a shorter suspension, if the league decides to make such a call. Generally speaking, if you get a phone hearing, you’ll often have to sit a few games, with the maximum being five. An in-person hearing usually implies a heavier punishment.

Here’s the rule that Witkowski broke in the heat of the “old-time hockey” moment:

A lot of players (and to an extent, goalies) were involved in the brawl, but from the sound of things, only Witkowski and Tkachuk will miss time because of that memorable fracas from the Red Wings’ resounding 8-2 win against the Flames.

As a reminder, the returning to the ice rule was added, in part, because of moments like these:

And now, footage of that sad moment in Phoenix Suns history to tie this altogether. Not cool, Robert Horry.

(Note: in this post’s Getty Image, you’ll notice that Tkachuk’s mouthpiece is hanging out even during a line brawl. Yeah, the kid is just a natural agitator.)

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.

Jeremy Roenick recalls his gruesome jaw injuries (Video)

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“My face blew up bigger than a pumpkin.”

That’s how hockey star turned NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick described the first time he broke his jaw thanks to an errant shot by Boris Mironov. That moment broke his jaw in 23 places … and no, you didn’t read that previous sentence incorrectly; that was merely the first time JR broke his jaw.

The second provided the grisliest visuals, as Derian Hatcher made Roenick pay for a hit on Mike Modano. Roenick explained that he tried to keep going during a 5-on-3 to stick it to Hatcher and the Stars, but … well, that’s where it gets gross.

In a twist that’s very “hockey,” Roenick and Hatcher would become teammates for the Flyers during an alumni game at the 2011 Winter Classic:

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Hey, at least it made for a good story and some mildly scarring images.

(Holds own jaw in sympathy pain.)

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.

The Buzzer: Brawls, Larkin’s hockey genius

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Player of the Night: Artem Anisimov

As you can read about here, Artem Anisimov enjoyed the best night of a hectic game between the Blackhawks and Rangers, generating the first hat trick of his career. That contest presented some twists and turns, with Chicago ultimately coming out on top 6-3.

Anisimov and Alex DeBrincat have been providing a big chunk of the Blackhawks’ offense lately, and its been much needed. Even while taking a lull of three games without a point in mind, the 29-year-old has eight goals and one assist in his past nine contests.

Highlights of the Night: On a Larkin

That wild line brawl between the Flames and Red Wings didn’t just take some spotlight from Detroit’s 8-2 win; it also might have distracted people from an impressive night via Dylan Larkin, a player who clearly seems to be back on track for a Red Wings team that could be feistier than many expected.

The top highlight features Larkin’s remarkable sense of timing and hockey geometry. (Was he good at geometry at school? If so, I’m jealous.)

The second reminded me of some early moments in Sidney Crosby‘s career, as Larkin used his skating ability and smarts to turn on the jets, only to make a sudden stop, assess the situation, and create a splendid play.

Some nights, Larkin is skylarking like vintage XTC. If you’re interested in violence, the real highlight of the game really was that brawl, though. If so, head here.

(Note: Johnny Gaudreau is on a hot streak of his own, albeit without the W-related results he wanted tonight.)

Caveats of the Night: The Ducks deserve a heap of credit for sticking with it, even as injuries seem to keep mounting. Or at least, might continue to mount.

Wildly underrated defenseman Hampus Lindholm is now dealing with a lower-body injury, while Corey Perry seemingly bounced back from this:

I say seemingly because, sometimes a player will return to a game in the heat of the moment. Then, when they wake up in the morning and/or have a doctor look at an injury, they realize something’s wrong and miss time. Kris Letang scored a game-winner injured, Paul Kariya famously bounced back from the Scott Stevens hit he can’t even remember, and so on. So we’ll see.

For a Ducks team that is besieged by injuries, so this is troubling.

The Ducks keep scrapping and, in this case, winning, though.

Factoid of the Night: The Mike Green resurgence: still pretty delightful.

Not enough is being made about John Gibson‘s continued climb up the goalie ranks. Where would Anaheim be without him (spoiler: probably the cellar):

Scores and more

Red Wings 8, Flames 2

Blackhawks 6, Rangers 3

Ducks 4, Bruins 2

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.