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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.

Bruins make short work of Coreau one game after he out-duels Price

TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 1:  Jared Coreau #31 of the Detroit Red Wings holds his head after a Toronto Maple Leafs goal during the third period of the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic at BMO Field on January 1, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Sports almost always have a “What have you done for me lately” feel to them, but the ups and downs can be especially cruel to an NHL goalie. The margin between a great performance and an early night on the bench can often be quite small.

Take journeyman goalie Jared Coreau of the Detroit Red Wings for example.

The 25-year-old generated three wins and two shutouts in his past four games. That most recent shutout came as he out-dueled Carey Price in a 1-0 win for the Red Wings. Sure, he only needed to stop 18 shots, but he won a staring contest with Carey Price.

Now, on Wednesday, Coreau couldn’t even get through the first period against the Boston Bruins.

Coreau allowed three goals on eight shots and was pulled after 8:50 of game time, giving way to Petr Mrazek.

Now, not all of this is on Coreau. Boston just keeps hammering away, and they finally got to Mrazek late in the first period. Even so, it was a tough go for Coreau, and a reminder of just how tough that gig can be.

McKenzie: Blues, Shattenkirk are open-minded about discussing a trade

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Earlier today, PHT discussed that something seems “off” about the St. Louis Blues. Might they slip enough to justify trading high-scoring (but pending UFA) defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk?

Hockey insider Bob McKenzie covered a variety of interesting issues on “NHL Live” on Wednesday, including the feeling that both Shattenkirk and his team seem more “open minded” about considering a trade.

Since Dec. 11, the Blues have gone 7-8-1, giving them a 23-17-5 record overall. That’s not disastrous by any means, but St. Louis has grown to expect robust regular seasons (and dreams of bigger playoff successes), so somewhat middling results might make them more willing to move an expiring contract.

If the slippage continues, McKenzie reasons that the Blues would become that much more willing to listen to offers.

Circumstances also might make Shattenkirk a little more interested in a deal, too.

While McKenzie notes that Shattenkirk rejected the idea of signing a contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers, possibly spurning a move, the blueliner would be more amenable to a “trial run” this season. That could mean with the Oilers or another team – maybe a Canadian one? – that could use a puck-mover.

Does that mean that a trade is on the verge of happening? No, not necessarily, but it does hint that the team and player would at least consider a wider array of possibilities.

In other words, feel free to dream up all sorts of imaginary trade scenarios. Oh, and what the full video for more.

More from McKenzie on “NHL Live”

The murky situation for the New York Islanders.

Is Paul Maurice on the hot seat for the Winnipeg Jets?

Finally, discussing the possibility of a Shane Doan trade:

Isles GM Garth Snow on coaching search, Tavares and who calls the shots

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During Wednesday’s edition of “NHL Live,” NBCSN’s Liam McHugh asked New York Islanders GM Garth Snow many of the key questions surrounding the organization following the firing of head coach Jack Capuano.

It’s interesting stuff, even if Snow managed to play coy on some of the bigger questions … or, to use his phrasing, “remain quiet” and keep much of the process “behind the scenes.”

Snow cited the team’s mediocre record in explaining his decision to fire Capuano (but also recent breakthroughs to praise Capuano and explain that the Islanders are surrounding John Tavares with the kind of talent that will make him want to re-sign with the organization). To some extent, some of the most interesting parts of the interview came in what Snow didn’t say, as he gives the impression that he’ll need to run his decisions by the team’s ownership group.

Let’s run through a few of the issues Snow addresses, though you should watch the video either way:

Gallant

He mostly avoided that issue, hence keeping things “behind the scenes.”

Interim head coach Doug Weight

“Doug Weight’s our head coach. “He’s had a tremendous career as a player and behind our bench the last several seasons … he has a familiarity with players and the players have familiarity with him.”

Tavares

Snow didn’t provide anything new here, emphasizing that Tavares loves playing in front of their fans and other common points.

Who makes the decisions?

McHugh pressed Snow on whether or not he has the final say on a coaching hire and other issues. Snow didn’t really specify, insisting that “the days of dictatorship are gone.” It sounds like ownership will have plenty of say in big decisions.

***

The Islanders play their first game with Weight as interim coach on Thursday, as they take on a team in a different form of upheaval in the Dallas Stars. The table’s set for the Islanders to at least save some face; they finish the month of January with six straight home games.

Now, the longer-term future, including Snow’s own job security? That’s anyone’s guess, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie discussed here.

Video: McKenzie on the unclear future for Gallant, Weight and the Islanders

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NHL insider Bob McKenzie stopped by NBCSN’s NHL Live on Wednesday for a really interesting session on the New York Islanders. If you want some fascinating tidbits, the video above is full of great insight … but you might be just as confused as ever about the direction of the franchise.

(Probably because the Islanders give off the impression that they’re confused, too.)

Let’s break down some of the more intriguing material:

  • In one eyebrow-raising point, McKenzie said that the Islanders may have gone one step further than asking for the Florida Panthers’ permission to speak with Gerard Gallant. The Isles might have even done so weeks before they fired Jack Capuano. Wow.
  • Even so, that doesn’t guarantee that Gallant will be their future head coach. McKenzie deems that a “long shot” for now and notes that nothing is imminent.
  • Instead, “what you see is what you get,” which means that Doug Weight may serve as interim head coach for a healthy chunk of time. The situation seems in flux overall.

Weight seems fine with whatever, as ESPN reports.

“I’m going to give everything I have, whether it’s five games or 40 games or if it turns into 10 years,” Weight said.

  • Maybe most importantly, McKenzie said that more sweeping changes could come to the Islanders organization this summer. One could imply that GM Garth Snow is in a vulnerable spot, something PHT discussed after Capuano’s firing.
  • Also, Gallant could be in the running for the coaching gig in Las Vegas.

So, yeah, that video above this post’s headline is absolutely worth watching. The NHL Live crew also provides some insight about the Islanders’ struggles and future direction, so check it out.

… And stay tuned. More twists and turns could be coming in this story.