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

Barkov, Huberdeau in practice (even no-contact) welcome sight for Panthers


As much as some want to hand the Florida Panthers a failing grade during a season of what’s believed to be a serious push toward analytics, injury concerns may justify a mark of “Incomplete.”

They’ve been without key players for huge chunks of 2016-17, most notably Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. (Nick Bjugstad missed a considerable amount of time, as well.)

While the cranky among us might wonder if this will ultimately be “too little, too late,” the Panthers got a welcome sight as Huberdeau and Barkov practiced on Monday, albeit in yellow no-contact jerseys.

Their reactions were very positive to Jameson Olive of the team’s website, too.

“I feel like I’m pretty close,” Huberdeau said.

Barkov, meanwhile, feels better every day and hopes to play soon.

Then again, it might be wise to keep optimism in check.

Huberdeau, 23, hasn’t played a single game this season after setting career-highs for goals (20) and points (59) in 2015-16. Barkov, 21, has 27 points in 36 games but hasn’t suited up in 2017.

The Panthers would need to make quite the push to rally into the playoffs this season. Such a thought seems at least a bit more reasonable if those key young scorers can get back into the lineup in the near future.

Flyers rise, Leafs fall, Islanders lurk on busy night in East playoff races


On a busy night for the Eastern Conference’s bubble teams, the Philadelphia Flyers probably ended up being the biggest winners.*

Let’s try to sort things out lightning-round style, then we’ll take a look at where the most relevant East bubble teams stand.

  • The Philadelphia Flyers grabbed their third straight win, and it was a significant one, edging the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1. The Flyers move ahead of the Leafs and other teams for the second wild card spot in the East, although Philly’s edge on Toronto looks a lot shakier when you factor in games in hand (more on that in a moment). Still, it was a big win for the Flyers.
  • The Maple Leafs really might be the biggest losers of the night, at least among teams whose chances seem most realistic right now. The Ottawa Senators lost, but they lost in overtime (3-2 to the Calgary Flames), so they have a three-point edge on the Maple Leafs. The Boston Bruins won a hectic 4-3 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins to move one point ahead of Toronto … but again, for now. The games in hand things is going to come up again.
  • The Florida Panthers managed to get the extra point against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 2-1 overtime win. The Cats aren’t in a position of strength, yet they can’t be discounted altogether, either.
  • The New York Islanders continue to rise in the East, gaining another win against an opponent in “contender” position. Andrew Ladd (yes, Ladd) scored two goals as the Isles beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1, giving the Islanders a six-game point streak. They still need to make up some ground, yet they’re a reminder of how much of a difference a surge can make. Even with the Habs hobbling a bit lately, that’s impressive stuff.

Phew, that’s a lot to digest, right?

Well, this might make things a little easier to follow. Let’s break things down by way of the Atlantic Division races and also the bubble races overall.

Races for the last two spots in the Atlantic

2. Senators – 58 points in 47 games
3. Bruins – 56 points in 52 GP

Maple Leafs – 55 points in 47 GP
Panthers – 52 points in 50 GP

As you can see, the Bruins lead the Maple Leafs for that third spot … but that’s a huge chunk of games for Toronto to make up ground (at least in an era rife with three-point games). Boston might end up being more concerned about the East bubble races, then, so that’s a good excuse to look at that situation.

Wild card

1. Rangers – 63 points in 49 GP
2. Flyers – 56 points in 50 GP

Maple Leafs – 55 points in 47 GP
Panthers – 52 points in 50 GP
Islanders – 51 points in 47 GP
Lightning – 50 in 50
Sabres – 49 in 47
Hurricanes – 49 in 48
Red Wings – 49 in 49
Devils 49 in 50

With the Rangers likely out of reach, the Maple Leafs (and maybe the other somewhat-close Atlantic teams) must eye teams like the Flyers, Senators and Bruins instead. Games in hand make things interesting, particularly if you’re an Islanders fan dreaming of big gains or a Leafs fan being quite realistically optimistic.

If Thursday is any indication, there’s a lot of room for movement in these races for East playoff spots.

* – The Washington Capitals are probably the biggest winners of all in the East if not the NHL, as they continued their pattern of bullying teams by beating the New Jersey Devils 5-2.

Video: Sean Monahan’s ridiculous between-the-legs goal

While he did go the last two games without a point, Sean Monahan‘s been on a roll overall lately. That mini-slump followed a five-game goal streak that also included two assists.

It’s true that runs like that involve some luck, but the young Calgary Flames star showed while there’s also skill involved with an absurd goal against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. This marks Monahan’s 16th goal of 2016-17.

Also note that, while he didn’t score a goal, Dougie Hamilton made a great move of his own to grab the primary assist. It was a bit perplexing that the Flames and other observers lost sight of Hamilton as a net-positive earlier this season, yet his knack for (mostly?) finding the right times to be aggressive really seems to be paying off for Calgary lately.

If they can get put this altogether more often, the Flames might just end up being a dark horse candidate in the West. Granted, there remain plenty of “ifs.”

Updated: Johnny Gaudreau ended up scoring the 3-2 overtime winner as the Flames edged the Senators on Thursday.

Phil Kessel, David Backes involved in Penguins – Bruins violence


During these polarized political times, many look to role models for inspiration to get along. That, uh … probably wouldn’t work out so well if you were trying to follow the lead of Phil Kessel and David Backes on Thursday.

OK, they probably didn’t get into a scuffle because of America – even Kessel needling the U.S. during the World Cup of Hockey, though there’s debate in that regard – but admit it; it’s fun to frame it that way.

Regardless, Thursday’s Boston Bruins – Pittsburgh Penguins game has been pretty dramatic, with Pittsburgh taking a 2-0 lead and then Boston charging back to go up 3-2 (at least temporarily).

With all apologies to the amusing lack of defense on Kessel’s goal, the violence brewing between the teams takes the cake, though.

You don’t get to see big names like Backes and Kessel go at it very often, even if this doesn’t really qualify as “fighting.”

So far, video isn’t available of their scuffle/roughing/etc., but there are GIFs. And they’re pretty entertaining.

It sure looks like Kessel started it, or at least was caught retaliating for something:

That GIF captured some of the violence, but here’s this piece of it, anyway:

As a reminder, Kessel sent out this sardonic tweet as the United States floundered at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey:

Sheesh, you’d think that Backes and Kessel could at least find common ground over dogs being cool, but apparently not.

The second period also ended with a fight between Colin Miller and Scott Wilson, with Wilson receiving misconduct and instigator penalties, so it’s been pretty heated between these two teams.

Again, video will be added when available. Here’s a clip of Miller vs. Wilson, at least:

Radko Gudas is in trouble again, this time for kneeing Nazem Kadri (Video)


If the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has a speed dial list, you’d assume Radko Gudas would rank high on it.

The Philadelphia Flyers defenseman plays on the edge, and sometimes – some might say, far too often – goes over the line. He received a two-minute kneeing penalty for a hit on Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri, which you can watch in the video above.

Search Gudas on Twitter and you’ll see plenty of disgust over the latest hit. We’ll find out soon enough if the league considers this suspension material.

For what it’s worth, plenty of people believe it was clean and maybe not even worthy of a penalty.