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Blues captain Backes on Halak: ‘Best I’ve ever seen him’

The St. Louis Blues came into this year challenging Jaroslav Halak to take the No. 1 goaltending gig and run with it.

He’s accepted the challenge so far — and then some.

Halak’s a perfect 3-0-0 with a .948 save percentage and 1.33 GAA, earning high praise from his captain, David Backes.

“Best I’ve ever seen him,” Backes told NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “He’s dialed in, he’s competing and his work ethic every day — even at practice — is up a few notches.”

Over the past two seasons, St. Louis has been content with the one-two goalie punch of Halak and Brian Elliott. For the most part, it’s served the team well — Halak and Elliott combined to win the Jennings in 2011-12 for fewest goals allowed and backstopped the Blues to consecutive playoff appearances.

But for this season, the timeshare was nixed.

As per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Blues pushed Halak to be their No. 1:

The Blues believe Jaroslav Halak has to be their man. Gone in St. Louis is the politically correct spin that the Blues have two capable netminders and both will battle for starts.

The Blues have made a collective, organizational decision that this season is Halak’s to win or lose. They’re handing him the keys, perhaps for the last time, being that Halak is a UFA after the season.

Halak rededicated himself in the offseason, staying in St. Louis to focus on his workouts instead of going home overseas, and showing up to camp dropping his body fat from 14 percent to 8 percent.

And just in case there were any lingering questions about who’s net it is in St. Louis, the Blues are giving Halak his fourth consecutive start on Saturday against the Rangers.

According to head coach Ken Hitchcock, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Halak starts six straight to begin the year, though that’ll depend on if he can continue his hot play.

Gostisbehere sets new rookie record in OT loss to Devils

Philadelphia Flyers' Shayne Gostisbehere reacts after scoring the first goal of his career during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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Shayne Gostisbehere is the proud owner of a new rookie record.

With his goal in the third period of Saturday’s 2-1 OT loss to the Devils, the 22-year-old extended his point streak to 11 games, which is a record for rookie defensemen in the NHL.

Gostisbehere has an incredible 10 goals and 30 points in 35 games this season.

Gostisbehere’s goal tied the game at one after Devils forward Joseph Blandisi scored this beauty in the first period:

Adam Henrique added the game-winning goal in overtime.

It’s the second straight 2-1 victory for the Devils, who also beat the Oilers by the same score on Tuesday night.

The Flyers have just one win in their last five contests.

To add insult to injury, Philadelphia lost Michael Del Zotto to an upper-body injury, per GM Ron Hextall.

Here’s an updated look at the Metropolitan division standings and Wild Card race:

standings

After missing two games because of an illness, Panarin will return to ‘Hawks lineup

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates after scoring an empty-net goal on an assist from Patrick Kane against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 3-1. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
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CHICAGO (AP) Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin is expected to play Saturday night against Anaheim after missing two games with an illness.

Panarin participated in Chicago’s optional morning skate, and coach Joel Quenneville says the rookie will be in the lineup against the Ducks.

The 24-year-old Panarin, who has played on Chicago’s second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane for most of the season, is second on the team with 34 assists and 52 points. The Blackhawks dropped both games while he was out.

Rangers get good news on McDonagh, bad news on Nash

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Some good news/bad news for the Rangers.

Exactly one week after suffering a concussion against the Philadelphia Flyers, defenseman Ryan McDonagh returned to the ice with his teammates this morning.

The Rangers captain was wearing a non-contract jersey, but “looked good” according to coach Alain Vigneault.

McDonagh was hurt after taking a punch to the head from Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds (above).

The 26-year-old has missed each of his team’s last three games since suffering the injury.

McDonagh hasn’t been cleared for contact, but that could happen in the next few days according to Vigneault.

The news wasn’t as good for forward Rick Nash, who’s been dealing with a bone bruise in his leg.

Nash has missed each of New York last eight game’s and Vigneault admitted that he’s no longer considered day-to-day.

He’ll miss at least another week.

Video: Blandisi scores great between-the-legs goal vs. Flyers

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What a story Joseph Blandisi‘s been for the New Jersey Devils this season.

The 21-year-old played in his first NHL game on Dec. 11 and has stayed with the Devils ever since.

It took him five games to pick up his first career point, but he’s done a whole lot more damage since then.

Blandisi came into Saturday’s action with 10 points in his last 12 games and he added to that against the Flyers.

He opened the scoring with this beautiful between-the-legs goal on goalie Michal Neuvirth (top of the page).

That’s Blandisi’s fourth goal of the season.

Some Twitter reaction to the goal: