James O'Brien

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

Canadiens, Subban bitterness showed in Gallagher comments

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If “living well is the best revenge,” then P.K. Subban is essentially going Charles Bronson on the Montreal Canadiens since the notorious Shea Weber trade.

Last season, the Habs watched Subban make the 2017 Stanley Cup Final during his first season with the Nashville Predators. Barring some absolutely staggering changes of fortune, it looks like Nashville will make another playoff run while the Canadiens will watch the NHL playoffs on TV with the rest of us.

Heck, the Predators couldn’t even throw the Canadiens a bone on Saturday, as a rowdy Montreal crowd saw Nashville win 3-2 in a shootout.

After the game, Brendan Gallagher clearly wasn’t happy about all the attention Subban was drawing … which essentially generated more attention for Subban.

You can see Gallagher’s full comments in the video above this post; he said “I don’t know why you’re asking about him” and mentioned Nashville’s other “elite” players, getting a jab in on Subban being a -1 in the game. He went further and said the sort of things that probably explain why the Canadiens (foolishly) traded the star defenseman.

This is the sort of feud that makes hockey more fun, but it feels like Subban almost has the Patrick Roy-ish fuel of team success to throw in Gallagher’s face, even if P.K.’s ears can’t be plugged by two championship rings.

When discussing the chatter between the two sides, Subban said “I’m sure it’s pretty quiet over there now” with the Predators getting the two points.

The Athletic’s Arpon Basu reports (sub required) that Gallagher’s beefing comments rank as some of the most frank statements Canadiens have made about Subban, at least in public.

No one from the Canadiens has ever come out and put that notion in such plain terms as Gallagher did Saturday, and that’s largely because the Canadiens have avoided talking about Subban at all costs ever since the June 29, 2016, trade. That silence, that unwillingness to discuss it, spoke volumes. But words are always more impactful.

You didn’t need to witness the post-game comments to see things heat up at times. You could see it when Gallagher was mouthing off after opening the scoring, and collecting his 20th goal of the season:

The hit Subban was speaking of happened here:

It’s worth noting that it’s clear that Subban had plenty of pals in the Montreal locker room, too, as you can see from him visiting with the likes of Carey Price and Alex Galchenyuk. (Aside: it’s still sort of funny that Galchenyuk is called “Chucky.”)

Here’s the thing about all of this: while it’s spicy fun for onlookers – this feels a lot like a high school squabble where the true winners are the audience members – it sure feels like sour grapes from Gallagher, who deserves credit for generating a strong season during a generally miserable one for Montreal.

While Subban is distinguishing himself on the ice (his team looks promising and he’s generating Norris buzz) and off of it (Subban’s sparkling personality made him an All-Star delight, not to mention his fantastic work for charities), the Canadiens are languishing with serious questions about their future direction. Maybe Subban’s personality rubbed some players the wrong way, yet can you really float superior chemistry when your team is plummeting down to mediocrity?

It seems like a feud Gallagher (and maybe the Canadiens as a whole) are bound to lose, but hey, we’ll take a little drama in a sport that often removes the sizzle from the steak.

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: Ups and downs for Islanders

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Players of the Night:

Do you go with the guy who collected a hat trick with the overtime game-winner, or the rookie who generated five assists for yet another five-point night?

Nelson’s the fellow who generated the hat trick, and he’s been hot lately. Maybe 24 points on the season is a little disappointing for Nelson, but he’s really heating up, collecting four goals and three assists for seven points during a four-game run. Impressive.

Mathew Barzal collected five assists, giving him 58 points in 56 games in 2017-18. It’s already his third five-point night of his rookie campaign.

He probably gets the nod if you can only choose one player of the night, as he’s achieved something that hasn’t been reached in 100 years:

  • Three helpers: Jamie Benn and Derek Forbort aren’t players you’d picture in the same breath, yet here they were, generating three assists tonight. Remarkably, it’s Forbort that is the player who was a first-rounder (15th overall in 2010), while Benn went 129th(!) in 2007.

Highlights

Curtis Lazar‘s struggled to score at the NHL level more than the hype suggested, but at least this was a cool one:

Wait, there’s a turbo button in this game? Apparently Carl Hagelin can still fly.

Alexander Radulov + Tyler Seguin + Jamie Benn = glorious.

Factoids

C’mon, it has to be Islanders related, right?

The not-so-good side of the Isles:

Leon Draisaitl is quietly heating up:

Scores

Islanders 7, Red Wings 6 (OT)
Rangers 4, Flames 3
Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 2
Kings 3, Panthers 1
Hurricanes 4, Canucks 1
Blues 5, Jets 2
Stars 4, Penguins 3 (SO)
Ducks 3, Oilers 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.

Islanders power way to weird win vs. Red Wings

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Halfway through the third period of Friday’s game, the New York Islanders were down 5-2 to the Detroit Red Wings. It was a familiar situation: despite having two star centers in Mathew Barzal and John Tavares, an atrocious defense and struggling goalies were on the way to dooming the team.

Then Tyler Bertuzzi was whistled for a five-minute major, and the good part of this team took over.

In a ridiculous stretch you can witness in the video above this post’s headline, the Islanders scored an absurd four goals during that five-minute major advantage. With that, the Isles went up 6-5 … and even that wasn’t enough.

Despite ending with less than two minutes remaining in the third period, the Islanders’ defense buckled once more to allow the tying goal. Brock Nelson‘s hat trick goal was the 7-6 overtime game-winner in a truly baffling display of, essentially, all that’s gone well and poorly for this confusing team this season.

Also confusing: the Bertuzzi situation itself.

As you can see, Cal Clutterbuck drew the penalty on Bertuzzi … and he didn’t make any friends in the process.

Bertuzzi expressed his regrets for slashing Clutterbuck, even though he didn’t think it should be a major.

As the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James reports, Bertuzzi’s teammates agree.

Pretty zany stuff, right down to the game being sent to overtime after all of that. Oh yeah, there was also this odd fight:

Beyond the drama surrounding Clutterbuck and Bertuzzi, this night stands as a lucky win for the Islanders, even if it’s hardly an example of them cleaning up problems that have been plaguing them all season.

And those issues have been especially rough lately, particularly when Thomas Greiss has been in net instead of Jaroslav Halak. The Isles’ goalies have been bad far too often, yet it’s not just on them, as the defense has been porous. Coming into Friday, the Islanders were allowing an NHL-worst 35.3 shots against per game, four more than the 31.2 they’re producing. So it’s not merely about this being “live by the sword, die by the sword.” There’s clearly a balance issue for the Isles.

How much of it is on Doug Weight, the personnel, or the goalies? It’s tough to put a percentage on each concern, but you wonder if management is cringing at all of this, especially with Tavares’ future hanging in the balance.

The Islanders are a mess. At least on nights like these, they’re a fun mess.

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.

Vigneault picks shaky time for even mild Lundqvist criticism

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Look, on one hand, it would probably be cowardly for New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault to skirt all questions about his team’s struggles.

Still, with upper management avoiding the “Fire AV” debate altogether while discussing a looming rebuild, you’d think that Vigneault would walk on eggshells, particularly when it comes to Henrik Lundqvist.

The New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis passes along some interesting quotes from Vigneault on the team’s goaltending, which while not necessarily inflammatory, might not sit well with Rangers fans who already want him fired:

“I believe that we’re a goaltender getting on a roll here to being back in the hunt and back into the playoffs,” Vigneault said. “We started our season 4-7-2 and we were a little inconsistent in the goaltending department. I felt we were playing better than our record indicated. Goaltending got better, we went on a [18-7-3] run. Came back from the bye week and since that time, we’ve been on a [3-10] run. A little inconsistent in the goaltending department.”

When you look at Henrik Lundqvist’s split stats, you can see that he’s experienced some rough months in October and now February, yet the overall picture is … well, handsome.

You could argue that such ups and downs fall on the netminder, yet could it also come down, in part, to the play in front of said netminders?

If you’re Vigneault, wouldn’t it be better off to say something vaguer, like “we’ve been inconsistent as a team?” Is it really wise to single out your goalies, particularly one who makes $8.5 million per year and is respected as one of the most consistent in the NHL?

You’d think comments like these won’t silence the whispers about Vigneault.

Management spoke of the team losing “familiar faces,” with speculation regarding any number of players being traded as part of a rebuild. There are even murmurs about Lundqvist being moved, possibly in part to spare him that process.

Maybe Vigneault knows that he might not be part of such rebuilding plans, either?

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.

Rangers’ Smith to AHL after clearing waivers

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NEW YORK (AP) The New York Rangers sent Brendan Smith to Hartford of the American Hockey League after the defenseman cleared waivers on Friday.

The move came one day after Smith – re-signed to a four-year, $17 million deal last June – was waived on his 29th birthday.

New York coach Alain Vigneault said captain Ryan McDonagh was out Friday night against Calgary due to an upper-body injury and could miss the team’s upcoming trip to Winnipeg and Minnesota. The Rangers will return to New York to visit the crosstown-rival Islanders next Thursday.

The Rangers called up John Gilmour from the AHL club and put him in the lineup against the Flames for his NHL debut. The 24-year-old defenseman had six goals and 20 assists in 44 games for the Wolf Pack this season.

Neal Pionk, called up from Hartford on Thursday, was also set to make his NHL debut, marking the first the the Rangers had two defensemen playing their initial games since Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy on Oct. 2, 2009, at Pittsburgh.

Defensemen Marc Staal (neck) and Kevin Shattenkirk (knee surgery) are also out, along with forwards Chris Kreider (blood clot), Pavel Buchnevich (concussion) and Jimmy Vesey (concussion).

New York has lost 11 of its last 15 games and began the day in last place in the tight Metropolitan Division, three points behind Columbus and the Islanders for the last wild card in the Eastern Conference.