James O'Brien

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

Flyers drop ninth in a row with heat on Hakstol


Update: Tuesday didn’t provide Dave Hakstol or the Philadelphia Flyers any relief. They didn’t even get a standings point in this case, as the San Jose Sharks beat them 3-1, giving Philly its ninth loss in a row.

It probably stings a bit more that the Flyers gave up a 1-0 lead.

Mark down “closed-door meeting” on your struggling coach BINGO sheets.


Last night, the Philadelphia Flyers squandered multiple leads to (of all teams) the hated Pittsburgh Penguins, losing for the eighth game in a row. It was another instance of a “loser point” keeping them vaguely in the mix, but doing little to remove the sting of defeat.

As patient as Flyers fans have frequently been as GM Ron Hextall continues what’s been a mostly impressive rebuild, there are breaking points, and the guy behind the bench often takes the fall.

With the San Jose Sharks in town, plenty of people wonder if the seat is getting boiling-hot for head coach Dave Hakstol.

It’s not accurate to say that every Flyers fans is calling for Hakstol’s head, but plenty are, with some being more vocal than others.

Sometimes you need fancy stats to break things down, but sometimes it’s just easier to compare your fledgling team to another sports team in town that’s doing quite a bit with its 16-game regular season.

Broad Street Hockey’s Travis Hughes went further on that, pointing out the dubious history of Flyers coaches whose teams had fewer wins than the Philadelphia Eagles around American Thanksgiving time. Short version: history isn’t exactly smiling upon Hakstol and his (currently) 8-9-6 Flyers team.

Naturally, a coaching change doesn’t just wave a magic wand and make everything better, even if the Flyers have seen firsthand how much of a difference that can make. Both the Flyers (see: Peter Laviolette’s midseason turnaround to a run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final) and their bitter rivals the Penguins stand as examples of a team getting that extra push.

Of course, those teams also featured rosters that were at make-or-break moments. That Flyers team ended up looking very different soon after that run, even beyond that being something of a last hurrah for Chris Pronger as a game-changing defenseman.

Heading into 2017-18, many expected the Flyers to be middle-of-the-pack, so it’s reasonable to wonder how much of these struggles come down to coaching instead of personnel or other factors.

Ultimately, making the right call with Hakstol is merely one of several tough tasks for Hextall right now. Hextall’s already succeeded in the “easier said than done” task of cleaning up many of the Flyers’ salary cap issues, but as we’ve often seen in sports, it can often be very challenging to make the jump from becoming respectable to truly being a factor.

Many Flyers fans would likely argue that Hakstol isn’t the coach to move them up such ranks.

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: Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators


The last time the Chicago Blackhawks faced the Predators in Nashville, they suffered a sweep that sent shockwaves through the organization.

So far, the first two of these Central Division rivals’ four regular-season games have come in Chicago, with the two teams grabbing a win apiece. The Blackhawks come into this game having won two in a row and grabbing at least a point in five straight games (4-0-1).

The Predators have a five-game point streak of their own (also 4-0-1) and have been red-hot in November, especially since adding Kyle Turris to an already-impressive mix. This should be a fun one between P.K. Subban, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Filip Forsberg and plenty of other quality players.

Along with watching on NBCSN, you can check out the game online and via the NBC Sports App.


For more on this contest, head over to the preview.

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: DeBrincat gets the hat


Player of the Night: Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks

With 13 points in his first 22 NHL regular-season games, Alex DeBrincat has been just about as good as advertised, but perhaps some fans wanted a little more sizzle to go with the steak. Especially considering that other precocious prospects have been so productive. It’s easy to forget that the undersized scorer is merely 19.

DeBrincat’s age was relevant on Monday, as he became the second-youngest Blackhawks forward to record a hat trick. Apparently NBC’s own Jeremy Roenick did so when he was just a bit more fresh-faced:

DeBrincat also collected an assist, so this was a four-point night, bumping him up to 17 points in 23 games.

Blackhawks fans and management alike envisioned nights like these when he went in the second round (39th overall) back in 2016. Ducks followers, meanwhile, must worry that a collapse is approaching after the team’s shown so much heart in fighting off injury after injury.

Highlights of the Night

Yikes, these hits:

Sergei Bobrovsky fell to the Canadiens this time around, but he still managed to make a nice save or two.

Carey Price got the best of Bob in this one, making 37 saves to win his second straight game upon returning from injury. You might say that he’s fairly important to the Habs.

If you enjoy brawls (how bloodthirsty of you), check out this post for some nastiness between the Wild and Jets during Winnipeg’s drubbing of Minny.

Factoids of the Night

One perk of Roberto Luongo‘s two tours with the mostly-struggling Panthers: the future Hall of Famer now has at least 200 wins with two different teams. BREAKING: this is a rare feat.

Quite a CLUTCHNESS DUEL forming between Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin:


Panthers 3, Devils 2
Penguins 5, Flyers 4 (OT)
Canadiens 3, Blue Jackets 1
Jets 7, Wild 2
Blackhawks 7, Ducks 3

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.

Fracas ensues during Jets’ rout of Wild (Video)


Can a two-game road trip be a long road trip?

The Minnesota Wild might feel that way, as they’ve been drubbed by two Central Division rivals in as many games. First, the Blues handled them 6-3 on Saturday. Things only got worse tonight as the red-hot Jets poured it on during a 7-2 beating.

Minnesota aimed to get a measure of revenge via beatings, actually, as quite the brawl erupted as Bryan Little scored all alone to make it 6-2. As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, it was a brief-but-heated skirmish.

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau would likely prefer a more defensive-minded response going forward, as The Athletic’s Michael Russo points out while singling out Kyle Quincey for quite an odd, mostly bad night:

With those consecutive losses, the Wild fall to 11-10-3 on the season. The Jets, meanwhile, move to just two points behind the Central-leading Blues for the division lead.

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 beat Flyers, lose Murray to injury


Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray was helped off the ice after a scary-looking collision with Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.

(You can see that in action in the video above this post’s headline.)

There’s no word yet on Murray’s condition. The Penguins are attempting a comeback against the Flyers with Tristan Jarry in net.

This hasn’t been the easiest smoothest month-and-change for Murray, 23, who came into the night with a .906 save percentage. The Penguins clearly miss the rare depth they had in the one-two punch of Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury, as Pittsburgh’s been stuck in a lot of shooting gallery-type evenings; these have been challenging times even for a team of the Pens’ scoring prowess.

Murray, Jarry, and two other goalies have appeared in net for the Penguins so far this season. This post will be updated with the result of the game and, ideally, some information about Murray. Stay tuned.

Update: The Penguins faced a 3-1 deficit to begin the third period, and Michael Raffl restored the Flyers lead at 4-3 with less than four minutes remaining in regulation. Pittsburgh continued to fight, though, as Jake Guentzel sent the contest to OT and Sidney Crosby scored the game-winner via a deft tip:

To little surprise, Mike Sullivan provided a non-update on Murray. Perhaps he’s correct that more will be known on Tuesday or at least in the next few days?

Meanwhile, the Flyers continue their losing streak at eight games, with “loser points” remaining bittersweet.

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.