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Blue Jackets have closed door meeting after shutout loss to Coyotes

It’s no secret the Columbus Blue Jackets are struggling. They’ve won only twice in their last 14 games and have been shut out three times in their last 5. After competing for a playoff spot for the first 50-55 games of the season, the Blue Jackets’ season dropped off the proverbial cliff to the point that they’re battling to hold onto the 12th spot in the Western Conference. Obviously, that’s not as exciting as battling for the 8th.

After the Blue Jackets’ shutout loss in Phoenix, the team leaders had enough. According to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline, the leaders on the team held a players-only meeting after the game to explain that quitting on the season was not an option.  It’s about time someone said something.

“…veterans hold players-only meeting after 3-0 loss [to] Coyotes. R.J. Umberger and Rick Nash did the talking, but Umberger had last word.

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CBJ captain Rick Nash: “Anybody who thinks we don’t have a lot to play for over these last eight games … that’s a pretty bad attitude.”

This brings up a difficult situation that teams go through every year. The Blue Jackets were a competitive team earlier this season and had visions of returning to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. The organization hoped that last year was simply an aberration; hoping the team would bounce back stronger after an off year. If last year was a step back, this year would be two steps forward.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out that way.

Instead, the single season in the playoffs looks like the outlier. Columbus has struggled greatly down the stretch and has looked like a team without a clear direction. That’s understandable for an expansion team—but the Blue Jackets are now in their 10th season. Ten full seasons and they’re still looking for their first ever playoff win. Clearly that isn’t happening this year.

Aside from the porous play that led to the players-only meeting, it’s good to see the leaders stepping up and doing something about the team’s downward spiral. The coach can tell the players that they’re playing for their jobs next season. He can tell them that they’re playing to set the tone for the offseason and the 2011-12 season. But when it comes from the leaders in the locker room, there’s a better chance it will reach receptive ears and make an impression.

The truth is the Blue Jackets are the staring at a tough offseason filled with some tougher questions. Scottie Upshall, Ethan Moreau, Jan Hejda, and Craig Rivet are all unrestricted free agents at the end of the season that the team will need to decide on. More importantly, big-time contributors Jakub Voracek, Grant Clitsome, Marc Methot, Sami Lepisto, and Anton Stralman are all restricted free agents who will all receive raises on their next contracts. With that many players up in the air for next season, GM Scott Howson will need to make some hard decisions on the future of the team.

Do the Blue Jackets want to continue with the current group they have in the locker room or do they want to shake things up and turn the roster over? The last few games will go a long way towards making Howson’s decision. If the team shows some heart, it makes it easier for the GM to keep the core players together and make a few peripheral changes to help improve the team. If they continue to lay down for the rest of the season, it will be a tough sell to the fans that this group will ever be able to win on a consistent basis.

For their part, Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger are showing the leadership every team would want. Now we’ll see if they have the type of team that is willing to follow their leaders. If they aren’t willing over the last few weeks of the season, there’s no reason to think they will next season.

Flames see a ‘style fit’ with Stone

Michael Stone #26 of the Arizona Coyotes passes the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on February 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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The Calgary Flames wanted to add depth to their defense, and they didn’t want to wait until the last minute to get it done.

So, after signing Matt Bartkowski last week, they added Michael Stone yesterday in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.

The trade deadline isn’t until next Wednesday.

“We have five games before the deadline, so we tried to get out ahead of it a bit,” Flames GM Brad Treliving said, per the Calgary Herald. “We’re deeper than we were a week ago, so we’re happy with it.”

Stone, a right shot, is expected to skate on the Flames’ second or third pairing with T.J. Brodie or Bartkowski, respectively. He may replace Dennis Wideman, who logged just 13:35 in Saturday’s OT loss at Vancouver.

“T.J. has some tempo to him so that could be a good fit. Whether it’s him or Bartkowski, we feel there’s a style fit,” Treliving said, per Arizona Sports. “We have some left-side guys who can skate and when Stony is at his best he’s playing with a partner who can skate and retrieve pucks so he can stabilize.”

The Flames play tonight in Nashville.

Stamkos resumes skating, but still no date for return

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the New York Rangers during the first period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 29, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Pleasant sight for the Bolts this week, as captain Steve Stamkos returned to the ice.

Stamkos, who has been out since undergoing major knee surgery in mid-November, took to the ice ahead of the team skate this morning, per the Times. He did stickhandling, shooting and fired some one-timers with assistant coach Brad Lauer but, according to GM Steve Yzerman, there’s still no set date for Stamkos’ return.

The 27-year-old was initially put on a 4-6 month timetable. If Stamkos’ recovery is closer to the four month estimate, there’s a chance he returns this season. If it’s closer to six, he could be done for the year.

Tampa Bay has struggled without Stamkos in the lineup, going just 16-18-7 since he got hurt. The team has experience a bit of an upswing lately, however, and head into tonight’s action just six points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Julien: ‘My job’ is to make Galchenyuk better

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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BROSSARD, Quebec (AP) The Montreal Canadiens skated hard, battled and worked, and that’s just how new coach Claude Julien wants the practices to be.

Julien finally got to put the Canadiens through a full workout with no distractions on Monday. It was aimed mostly at convincing his struggling team that tighter defense will lead to more scoring chances on attack.

“He wanted it to be 40 minutes of high pace, high intensity, so when it comes to game time it’s second nature,” said defenseman Jeff Petry.

Julien, who replaced Michel Therrien last week, will be seeking his first victory since returning to Montreal when the Canadiens face the Rangers in New York on Tuesday night.

His debut saw the club fall 3-1 at home to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

He had only one practice with the team before his first game and it was something of a circus, with fans jammed into the viewing areas at the team’s suburban training center and two all-sports TV stations covering the event live.

Another practice Sunday at the Bell Centre was a promotional event in front of 10,000 shrieking kids.

It added to the challenge for Julien to put into effect the changes he hopes will snap the Canadiens out of a 1-6-1 slump in which they have scored only 10 goals, four of them by captain Max Pacioretty and another two from his linemate Alexander Radulov.

Julien wants his team to spend less time in its own zone and more time harrying opposition goaltenders. That starts with getting the puck more quickly on defense and holding onto it longer in the opponent’s end.

“What we want to try to do, and what we did today, is to try to be better defensively for goals against and chances against,” he said. “But more than that, if we’re better defensively we can (get) the puck quickly.

“I want us to play with the puck, not without it. I’m looking for puck possession time. It’s not necessarily about analytics, it’s that if we have the puck more, our chances are much better of winning.”

It’s a formula that worked for most of the 10 seasons Julien spent with the Boston Bruins before he was replaced by Bruce Cassidy two weeks ago.

Boston won a Stanley Cup and reached another final during his time there, although they fell short of the playoffs the past two seasons.

The Canadiens started the season 13-1-1 and maintained a decent record despite a run of injuries through December and January, but they’ve hit a wall of late.

That prompted general manager Marc Bergevin to fire fifth-year coach Therrien and bring in Julien, whose first NHL coaching job was with the Canadiens from 2003 to 2006.

There is much that needs fixing. The Canadiens have got no goals and not even many scoring chances or sustained offensive zone pressure from their second, third or fourth lines in the past eight games.

They’ve also been lax defensively and at times had spotty goaltending, although Carey Price was sharp against the Jets.

“We’ve got enough skill here, (the offense) will come back,” said Julien. “I’m not worried about it.

“We have enough players on this team that can score goals, but we’ve got to start in the right place and that’s when we get the puck back quickly. It remains to be seen, but that’s my belief.”

What he hasn’t had enough time for yet is to work on line combinations.

Mostly, he has used the units Therrien had in place. He moved Alex Galchenyuk to center on the first line to start against Winnipeg, but had Phillip Danault back in that spot by the third period.

Now Galchenyuk is back to the second line with Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron.

“I know he’s a very talented player; my job is to make him better,” Julien said of Galchenyuk. “Now I want to work with him on the little aspects of the game that will make him even better.”

The slump has narrowed the Canadiens’ lead in the Atlantic Division to only two points ahead of Ottawa, which has two games in hand.

“It’s what happens when you don’t win games,” said Gallagher. “Everyone else in the league seems to be winning except for us and they’re gaining ground.

“If we get back to playing winning hockey, playing our style and doing all the little things Claude and his staff are trying to get across, then we’ll be where we want to be.”

With Marner out again Maple Leafs recall Frederik Gauthier from AHL

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs cuts in for a scoring attempt on Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs 5-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs will once again be without prized rookie Mitch Marner on Tuesday night when they take on the Winnipeg Jets.

The officially placed him on injured reserve Tuesday morning retroactive to Feb. 15. He suffered an upper body injury that night against the Columbus Blue Jackets when he took an awkward fall into the boards and has not played since.

With Marner placed on IR, the Maple Leafs made a corresponding roster move to recall forward Frederik Gauthier from the the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

Gauthier, a first-round draft pick (No. 21 overall) by the Maple Leafs in 2013, has spent most of this season with the Marlies where he has one goal and five assists in 26 games. He has also played 18 games for the big club, scoring two goals and an assist. He last played for the Maple Leafs on Jan. 31. He was skating on the team’s fourth line between Matt Martin and Nikita Soshnikov at the morning skate.

With 48 points in 56 games Marner is still the second leading scorer on the Maple Leafs, just one point behind No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews. Even though he is out tonight he will still be eligible to return on Thursday night when the team takes on the New York Rangers. Toronto has briefly fallen out of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference, sitting one point behind both the Florida Panthers (third spot in Atlantic Division) and Boston Bruins (second wild card spot).