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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A pair of rookies are playing ‘huge roles’ for streaking Sharks

On the surface, things are the same as they’ve always been in San Jose. The club is still really good (22-12-1, first in the Pacific Division) and the same veteran guys are still doing the business (Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton lead team in scoring).

Dig a little deeper, though, and there have been some significant changes.

The Sharks have quietly embraced a youth movement this season, though it might not remain quiet for long. Rookies Timo Meier, 20, and Kevin Labanc, 21, have both made significant impacts on the lineup.

Just ask Jumbo.

“[Labanc], just the ability to get in position to score – I think he’s a very, very smart hockey player. He wants to score every night, which is fun to see as an older player,” Thornton said, per CSN Bay Area. “Timo, just his speed stands out, and how strong he is.

“Both guys are playing huge roles on our team right now.”

The Sharks will go for their ninth win in 10 games tonight when they host Philly, and both Labanc and Meier will play key parts. Despite appearing in just 22 games this year and only averaging 13:03 TOI, Labanc sits fifth on the team in goals, with six — the same kind of sniping prowess he displayed with the AHL Barracuda.

He’s now on the club’s second line, centered by Logan Couture, and is on the Sharks’ second power-play unit as well.

Meier, the ninth overall pick in 2015, has an even smaller body of work, with just five games played thus far. Still, he’s been impressive — scoring in his NHL debut — and head coach Peter DeBoer suggested a bigger role could be in the cards.

“He’s looking dangerous out there,” DeBoer said. “I think he’s knocking on the door to do some real good things here.”

Labanc and Meier couldn’t have emerged at a better time. Mikkel Boedker, one of GM Doug Wilson’s biggest acquisitions in free agency, has been a disappointment and veteran winger Joel Ward has really struggled, with just two goals through 33 games.

Last year, Ward found the back of the net 21 times, the second-highest total of his career.

The drama continues: Isles waive Halak

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In the wake of last night’s contentious loss to Minnesota, the Islanders have placed veteran netminder Jaroslav Halak on waivers.

The move comes after Halak was hooked following four goals on 24 shots, and taken to task by head coach Jack Capuano for the poor effort.

“Jaro wasn’t sharp at all,” Capuano said, per Newsday. “Some soft goals to start, and then we had to battle our way back in.

“We needed a better effort from Jaro, quite honestly.”

Today’s move could mark the end of what’s been a tumultuous calendar year for Halak. Signed to a four-year, $18 million contract in 2014, he started out as the club’s unquestioned No. 1 netminder, but lost his stranglehold on that position with a variety of injuries, including one in March that sidelined him for the regular season and all of New York’s playoff run.

Thomas Greiss took over No. 1 duties and fared well, but it was Halak who bested Greiss for the Team Europe starting gig at the World Cup of Hockey. Given how well Halak played at the tournament, there was optimism for him to reclaim the starting gig in Brooklyn, and run with it.

Didn’t happen, though.

Never a fan of the club’s three-goalie system — J-F Berube was also in the mix — Halak split duties through the first three months of this season and posted mediocre numbers: 6-8-5 record, 3.23 GAA and a .904 save percentage.

In late October, Halak’s agent — Octagon Hockey’s Allan Walsh — took to Twitter to express his client’s frustration with the three-goalie setup. Not long after, the Isles reportedly explored trading Halak, but found no takers.

Halak has a solid enough body of work to warrant a waiver claim, but the finances ($4.5 million per through 2018) will make it extremely difficult for a team to take on. Should he clear, the Isles could send him to their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, and receive a bit of financial relief in the process.

More importantly, though, it would finally solve the crowded crease conundrum.

More Isles goalie drama, as Capuano rips Halak

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It’s fitting that, at the end of a year filled with goalie drama, the New York Islanders are going out with a bang.

The Isles lost 6-4 to Minnesota on Thursday, a game in which J-F Berube came on in relief of Jaroslav Halak, who was hooked after allowing four goals on 24 shots.

Afterward, Isles head coach Jack Capuano minced no words about Halak’s performance.

“It’s a tough loss,” Capuano said, per Newsday. “It’s too bad. Jaro wasn’t sharp at all. Some soft goals to start, and then we had to battle our way back in.

“We needed a better effort from Jaro, quite honestly. Four goals on 24 shots isn’t going to get it done.”

It’ll be interesting to hear what Halak has to say, whenever he decides to speak. Halak has previously been critical of the club’s three-goalie setup (Berube dressed ahead of Thomas Greiss for last night’s game) and, back in late October, his agent — Octagon Hockey’s Allan Walsh — took to Twitter to express those frustrations.

Not long after, the Isles reportedly explored trading Halak, but found no takers.

One has to wonder if Capuano’s remarks were just about last night’s effort. Halak hasn’t been good lately, allowing at least three goals in four of his last five starts. All told he’s allowed 19 goals on his last 172 shots faced, for a sub-par .890 save percentage.

Benching Athanasiou ‘coach’s decision,’ says Blashill

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Plenty of things went right for Detroit in its 3-2 OT win over Ottawa on Thursday, but Andreas Athanasiou‘s third period wasn’t one of them.

Athanasiou was benched for the entire final frame — and all 1:07 of the OT session — after being on the ice for both of the Sens’ goals in the first and second.

When asked about why the speedy forward was a spectator, Red Wings bench boss Jeff Blashill told the Free Press it was a “coach’s decision.”

All told, Athanasiou finished with just seven shifts for 5:13 of ice time. It was, quite obviously, the lowest total on the team.

This year has been a struggle for the 22-year-old, who missed nearly a month of action after suffering a knee injury against Vancouver on Nov. 10. He has just two points in his last nine games and has seen his ice time chopped in previous instances as well — like a 6-4 win over Anaheim back on Dec. 17, in which he played just 7:47.

One of the fastest players on the team, Athanasiou off to a pretty solid start before getting knocked out of the lineup. He had four goals and five points in 13 games, and was averaging 12:06 TOI per night.

 

 

Update: Brian Campbell’s ironman streak ends with a healthy scratch

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Update: The Chicago Blackhawks did indeed make Brian Campbell a healthy scratch.

Instead, their six defensemen includeDuncan Keith, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrrok, Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival.

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Eventful day in the world of Brian Campbell news.

Earlier, we wrote about Campbell being undecided on his future, other than only wanting to play in Chicago beyond this year.

Now, he’s on the verge of missing his first game in a long time.

Campbell “could be out” for tonight’s tilt in Nashville, per ‘Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville. As the Sun-Times reports, the 37-year-old was one of the defensemen out late at today’s morning skate — along with rookie Gustav Forsling — which is usually a good indicator of a healthy scratch.

The Sun-Times did note that Campbell looked like a healthy scratch earlier this season in Columbus, only for Quenneville to insert him into the lineup. So things are still up in the air.

Whatever the case, this is still newsworthy. Campbell has one of the NHL’s longest-active ironman streaks, at 423 games, and hasn’t missed a single tilt since the 2010-11 campaign.

Signed to a one-year, $2.25 million deal in free agency — his version of a hometown discount, given he was making $7.1M annually on his last contract — the veteran has three goals and 10 points this season, averaging just under 19 minutes per night.

But while he’s been an every-night contributor — one of only six ‘Hawks to appear in all 37 games this season — Campbell is one of eight defensemen at Quenneville’s disposal. Coach Q did also note that d-men Michal Kempny and Michal Roszival have been sitting out “probably a little too long.”