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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Matthews, Laine highlight All-Star rosters

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It was widely assumed last year’s draft class would be a special one — just maybe not this quickly.

But it’s happening, and fast.

On Tuesday, the NHL released the remaining rosters for the 2017 All-Star Game in Los Angeles, and the first two picks of the 2016 draft — Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine — were named, becoming the only two rookies voted into this year’s event.

Laine, 18, is in his first campaign with Winnipeg and currently sits second in the NHL in goals with 21. He also leads all rookies in scoring — yes, ahead of Matthews — with 37, and is tied for 13th in league scoring and has the team lead in points, tied with Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers.

Though currently sidelined with a concussion, there is hope Laine will return to the Jets lineup soon, and be able to participate in L.A.

Matthews, 19, has been equally impressive in his first season with the Leafs. After a lengthy goalscoring slump that ran from late October to late November, the Arizona native has come alive and is on fire, with 15 goals and 22 points in his last 20 games.

Matthews capped off a terrific December by being named the NHL’s rookie of the month.

Here are the remaining players named to the ASG, along with the coaching staffs:

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Forwards

Nikita Kucherov
Brad Marchand
Auston Matthews
Frans Nielsen
Kyle Okposo
Vincent Trocheck

Defensemen

Victor Hedman
Erik Karlsson
Shea Weber

Goaltenders

Carey Price (C)
Tuukka Rask

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

Forwards

Sidney Crosby (C)
Taylor Hall
Evgeni Malkin
Alex Ovechkin
Wayne Simmonds
John Tavares

Defensemen

Justin Faulk
Seth Jones
Ryan McDonagh

Goaltenders

Sergei Bobrovsky
Braden Holtby

CENTRAL DIVISION

Forwards

Patrick Kane
Patrik Laine
Nathan MacKinnon
Tyler Seguin
Vladimir Tarasenko
Jonathan Toews

Defensemen

P.K. Subban (C)
Duncan Keith
Ryan Suter

Goaltenders

Corey Crawford
Devan Dubynk

PACIFIC DIVISION

Forwards

Connor McDavid (C)
Jeff Carter
Johnny Gaudreau
Bo Horvat
Ryan Kesler
Joe Pavelski

Defensemen

Brent Burns
Drew Doughty
Cam Fowler

Goaltenders

Martin Jones
Mike Smith

HEAD COACHES

The four head coaches for the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend will be Michel Therrien of the Montreal Canadiens (Atlantic), Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild (Central), John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets (Metropolitan) and Peter DeBoer of the San Jose Sharks (Pacific).

Under the All-Star selection process, the head coach of the team with the highest points percentage (points earned divided by total possible points) in each of the four divisions through games of Tuesday, Jan. 10 – the halfway point of the regular season – will guide the respective All-Star rosters.

Therrien’s Canadiens (.683, 25-10-6) are guaranteed of posting the top points percentage in the Atlantic Division through tonight, while Boudreau’s Wild (.705, 25-9-5), Tortorella’s Blue Jackets (.769, 28-7-4) and DeBoer’s Sharks (.625, 24-14-2) similarly have wrapped up first place in the Central, Metropolitan and Pacific Divisions, respectively.

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.