Mike Halford

You've heard the expression "let's get busy?" Well, Mike Halford is a blogger who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.
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Struggling rookie Zacha ‘needs to get more competitive,’ says Hynes

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Tough times for Pavel Zacha.

Zacha, the prized Devils prospect taken sixth overall in ’15, is struggling through a rookie campaign that saw his pointless streak extend to 14 games in last night’s 3-0 loss to Florida.

Zacha’s most significant “impact” on the game was a boarding major on Panthers forward Denis Malgin, one that knocked Malgin out for the evening and kept Zacha to just over 10 minutes of ice time overall. And in addition to going scoreless, the big Czech center failed to register a single shot on goal.

That’s something the Devils have been monitoring, per NJ.com:

Asked about Zacha after Monday’s morning skate, Devils coach John Hynes threw out some harsh criticism.

“Why is he not scoring?” Hynes said. “He’s got to shoot the puck more. He has to play harder on the puck in the offensive area. He’s got to skate. He’s not putting himself in positions to score goals either.

“So instead of wondering why the goals aren’t going in, let’s continue to work on how we’re going to create more scoring (and) use his assets. … When he’s in opportunities to shoot the puck, shoot it.”

Asked if Zacha needs to get stronger, Hynes shot back, “He needs to get more competitive.”

The Devils clearly expected more from Zacha, even though he is only 19 years old. A solid scorer in junior (64 points in 51 games with OHL Sarnia), he burst onto the scene last year in his NHL debut, finishing the game with a pair of assists.

This year, though, he has just two goals and seven points through 35 games. And that’s with Hynes already having sent a few messages by way of the healthy scratch.

It’s been a tough season for the Devils overall, with Hynes constantly complaining about his team being too easy to play against. Fairly or not, Zacha has been lumped into that group, so it’ll be interesting to see if he continues to play with more physicality and further utilizes his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame.

Flyers first-rounder Rubtsov parts ways with KHL club

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One of the most curious prospects at last year’s draft is on his way to North America.

Russian center German Rubtsov, selected 22nd overall by Philly, has reportedly terminated his contract with KHL club Vityaz and will now join Quebec junior league side Chicoutimi, per NHL.com.

Rubtsov is an interesting story. He was the fifth-ranked European skater by Central Scouting, but was part of the Russian squad that was pulled out of the world under-18 championships in April.

From Sportsnet:

The belief is that all, or most, of the team, had been on a meldonium regimen, and there were fears that many of the players would test positive at the tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Rubtsov is expected to be a top 25 pick this month in Buffalo, a talented two-way centre who is highly competitive.

“He’s like a dog on a bone,” said one hockey executive.

Another said he’s an “old school Russian centre who cares about the defensive side of the game.”

Philly had the 18th overall selection, but traded down (with Winnipeg) to take Rubtsov at No. 22. This year he’s split time between Vityaz’s junior and senior teams, and was part of the Russian contingent that captured bronze at the world juniors.

Rubtsov will reportedly undergo facial surgery — related to a nose injury suffered at the WJC — in Philly, before heading to Quebec.

Goalie nods: Price, Holtby square off in battle of reigning Vezina winners

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Two years ago, Carey Price captured the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder.

Last year, Braden Holtby won the award.

As such, the obvious narrative has been set for tonight’s Caps-Habs game from the Bell Centre in Montreal — it promises to be a quality netminding affair, as two of the league’s best go head-to-head.

Holtby is coming off a terrific week, in which he was named the NHL’s third star. He posted back-to-back shutouts against the Blue Jackets and Senators, stopping all 59 shots faced, and now boasts an impressive .931 save percentage on the year.

Price hasn’t been to shabby lately either.

The ’15 Hart Trophy winner has emerged victorious in his first two starts of January, allowing just four goals on 59 shots. That’s pushed his save percentage to .930 on the year — just behind Holtby for fifth among NHL netminders.

Elsewhere…

Roberto Luongo returns from a brief injury absence as the Panthers take on the Devils in New Jersey. He’ll be up against his old Canucks teammate, Cory Schneider.

— After a very strong outing against Vancouver on Saturday (28 saves on 29 shots, for the win), Chad Johnson gets a second straight start for the Flames in Winnipeg. He’ll be up against Connor Hellebuyck, who allowed four goals on 36 shots in a loss to Buffalo on Saturday.

Kari Lehtonen, yanked in a loss to St. Louis over the weekend, appears to be back in goal when the Stars take on the Kings. No word yet on a Los Angeles starter.

More accolades for Grabner, who’s been a great find for the Rangers

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After scoring five goals in three games — two of the game-winning variety — speedy Rangers forward Michael Grabner was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday.

But his impressive effort goes well beyond the last seven days.

One of the best signings of last summer — inked on the opening day of free agency to a two-year, $3.8 million deal — Grabner has provided immense value for a Rangers team that didn’t have a ton of cap flexibility. His 19 goals on the year have him tied for sixth in the league and he’s on pace for 36, which would break his previous career high.

It’s a neat development, to say the least. Sure, Grabner has a history of sniping — he scored 34 for the Isles back in ’10-11 — but, recently, he was known for his inability to find the back of the net more than anything else.

(To wit: Grabner has his 18 goals through 41 games this year. Over the last two years, he played 114… and scored 17.)

This year, the 29-year-old is playing with a boatload of confidence. And it shows.

“I think the last couple of years, even a few weeks ago when I was missing some chances, it gets into your head a bit,” Grabner said following Saturday’s 5-4 comeback win over the Blue Jackets, per the Daily News. “Last two games I’ve just been a little freer in my head and not thinking too much about it out there.”

Rangers GM Jeff Gorton deserves credit for taking a calculated gamble. There were reasons to think New York would be a good fit — the club needed more speed, which Grabner has in droves, and there was some history with bench boss Alain Vigneault, who coached the Austrian in Vancouver a few years back.

But nobody predicted the Blueshirts would get this kind of production.

It’s a big reason why New York’s heading into its “bye week” in such a favorable position. The Rangers are right near the top of the wildly competitive Metropolitan Division, just three points back of first-place Columbus, and are on pace for an 111-point campaign. That would be a 10-point improvement on last season, no small feat for a club many felt was trending in the wrong direction at the end of last year.

‘Canes waive Nestrasil

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After claiming Ty Rattie from the Blues and getting Elias Lindholm back from injury, Carolina has placed forward Andrej Nestrasil on waivers.

From the club:

Nestrasil has logged 17 goals and 31 assists (48 points) in 137 NHL games from 2014-17. Carolina claimed Nestrasil on waivers from Detroit on Nov. 20, 2014, and he has since played in 114 games with the Hurricanes over parts of three seasons.

Nestrasil has recorded five points (1g, 4a) in 18 games this season, but has played just twice since Dec. 10 and has been a healthy scratch in 22 games.

After being picked up from Detroit, Nestrasil was a fairly good contributor for the ‘Canes. He scored seven goals and 18 points in 41 games while averaging over 14 minutes per night in his first campaign, which led to Carolina signing him to a two-year, $1.85 million extension.

The 25-year-old had his ’15-16 season cut short due to a fractured vertebrae, but still managed to post career highs in goals (nine) and points (23). As mentioned above, he was in and out of the lineup this year as Carolina had more options at forward, most notably with additions like Rattie, Lee Stempniak, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho.