Mike Halford

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After worst outing of the year, Flames give Jankowski NHL debut

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Of the 30 players first-rounders from the 2012 draft, only two have yet to make their NHL debuts.

Tonight, that number will decrease to one.

Mark Jankowski, the 21st overall pick, will play his first big-league contest when he and the Flames take on the Isles in Brooklyn on Monday night.

(This leaves St. Louis’ Jordan Schmaltz, the 25th selection, as the lone first-rounder yet to play in the NHL.)

Jankowski, 22, got the call up to Calgary after a terrific start to the year in AHL Stockton, with 12 points in 13 games.

And now he gets to enter the lineup after his team’s lousiest effort of the year!

“It’s the worst we’ve played from the start all season. I give (the Flyers) credit, too. They did outwork us,” head coach Glen Guluzan told reporters after Calgary’s 5-3 loss in Philly on Sunday. “It’s everything. It’s execution. It’s battles. I was very disappointed with our guys after the first.

“I let them know that but it didn’t get any better in the second.”

Gulutzan wouldn’t say who is coming out of the lineup to make room for Jankowski.

So, how big a boost can the rookie forward provide?

There have always been high, but tempered hopes for Jankowski — former Flames assistant GM John Weisbrod once compared him to Joe Nieuwendyk, but the Flames also said he was ‘very much a project’ when he was drafted.

After getting selected in ’12, Jankowski spent four full years at Providence, helping the Friars capture the Frozen Four in 2015. Like many NCAAers that play out the string, he could have become a free agent this summer, a la Jimmy Vesey.

But despite the opportunity, he saw no reason to sign elsewhere.

“Honestly, there was no looking around,” he told the Calgary Sun in March.

Gerard Gallant didn’t think Florida was tough enough. Did it cost him his job?

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Last week, we passed along this interesting-but-seemingly-innocuous tidbit out of Florida, in which Panthers coach Gerard Gallant — sorry, Panthers ex-coach Gerard Gallant — admitted concern about his club’s lack of toughness.

More: Panthers fire Gallant

The gist? Given the departures of Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov, the injury to Alex Petrovic and Shawn Thornton‘s diminishing game (he’s been a routine healthy scratch), Gallant didn’t think the Panthers had enough snarl.

And last Tuesday, they didn’t have anyone to respond when the Flyers took physical liberties with them.

From the Sun-Sentinel:

The Panthers had no suitable enforcer to respond Tuesday when Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds got feisty or when Radko Gudas flattened Vincent Trocheck with a headshot. Gallant said he regretted not having Thornton available.

“You always think that when things happen to your team. It’s frustrating to see that happen, especially in your own building,” Gallant said. “The Simmonds situation and then the Gudas hit on Trocheck, you’d like a response on that.

“But when you don’t have personnel to put out there for that it shows.”

Perhaps we should’ve made more of that last line.

Especially the “personnel” part.

The Panthers, as has been well-documented, made a drastic organizational overhaul this summer. Changes were everywhere — in the front office, behind the bench (remember, assistant coach John Madden was turfed) and most notably on the ice.

The Panthers brought in Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, James Reimer, Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault. They traded Gudbranson and a budding young power forward in Lawson Crouse. They tinkered significantly with a squad that won a franchise-record 47 games last year, and made the playoffs for just the second time in 15 seasons.

Gallant played a big role in that success, but so too did physical presences like Gudbranson, Kulikov and Willie Mitchell (who played half a season before concussion issues sidelined him). Those three are gone, along with less significant pieces like Quinton Howden, a grinding, energetic forward who finished sixth on the team in hits last year, with 116, despite playing in only 58 games.

Gudbranson, though, sounds like he’s the embodiment of Florida’s missing toughness.

From Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

Gallant would never admit it (at least not before Sunday), but he hated seeing Erik Gudbranson traded. In a cap world, someone had to go. Losing him and Willie Mitchell changed the complexion of the blue line.

Gallant valued Gudbranson’s game, how hard he could make it on opposing forwards. But Florida’s front office values a different kind of defender, and with one season remaining until his free agency, they weren’t going to ante up for Gudbranson’s skillset.

So Gallant’s questioning of the club’s direction probably began in May, when Gubranson was flipped to Vancouver.

It hasn’t stopped since.

In July, Gallant — just months removed from being named a Jack Adams finalist for coach of the year — said he was “definitely a little bit surprised” at all changes made.

“You’d like to have your team back as a coach but at the same time there’s salary-cap issues that come into play,’’  Gallant said, per the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “It’s different than it used to be before.”

In the end, this might’ve been his biggest undoing. It wasn’t that Florida was off to an average start, or that players tuned him out.

It was that Florida had a vision that Gallant didn’t agree with, and wasn’t going to let him openly challenge it anymore.

For further confirmation, just consider what owner Vinnie Viola said — and how he said it — in announcing Gallant’s dismissal.

“In seeking to earn a second consecutive playoff berth and bring a Stanley Cup to South Florida,” Viola said, “we believe that new leadership is required immediately.”

Injuries keep piling up in Detroit — Smith out four weeks (Update: Bertuzzi too)

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It’s a veritable MASH unit in the Motor City right now.

On Monday, Wings GM Ken Holland announced that d-man Brendan Smith would miss the next four weeks with a knee injury, suffered in Saturday’s 2-1 OT loss to the Habs.

Smith got tangled up with Montreal’s Philip Danault with about eight minutes left in the second period, and didn’t return. He was one of two Detroit skaters to exit the game that frame — the other, forward Tyler Bertuzzi, limped off with 3:13 remaining after a hit from Alexei Emelin.

Holland didn’t have an update on Bertuzzi’s condition today.

On its own, the Smith injury is a problem. The 27-year-old was a lineup fixture this year, averaging over 18 minutes while appearing in 20 games, notching a pair of goals and four points.

And as mentioned above, his injury is just the latest to hit Detroit.

The club is already without Andreas Athanasiou and Darren Helm, who have been sidelined since mid-November. Jimmy Howard left Friday’s game against the Devils with a lower-body injury, and Alexey Marchenko is on injured reserve with an upper-body ailment.

Update: Head coach Jeff Blashill said Bertuzzi, who suffered an ankle injury on the Emelin play, will be out 3-5 weeks (per MLive).

 

Pens unveil Stadium Series jerseys

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Here’s what Pittsburgh will be wearing on Saturday, Feb. 25, when it hosts the Flyers in an outdoor game at Heinz Field:

The most notable difference between this and the traditional Pens sweaters is the triangle logo backing — it’s gone, and now frames the captain’s letter on the chest.

Thoughts on the new duds? Weigh in via the comments section.

Goalie nods: Dell makes rare start for Sharks

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Heading into the year, there were major question marks about the backup spot behind Martin Jones in San Jose.

And though it’s been through a limited body of work, Aaron Dell has answered them so far.

Dell, 27, was undrafted out of the University of North Dakota, and kicked around the CHL, ECHL and AHL after leaving school. He caught on with the Sharks organization a couple seasons ago, and won backup job by putting up solid numbers for the AHL Barracuda in ’15-16.

Through three games this year, he’s looked very good, posting a 1.90 GAA and .932 save percentage.

The lingering issue, of course, is just three games played.

Jones has been a workhorse for the Sharks, and currently sits third in the NHL in minutes played. The 26-year-old has shown an ability to handle big workloads — he played 65 games last year, and was arguably San Jose’s best player in the Stanley Cup Final — but it’s always somewhat risky, given the looming specter of injury or a prolonged slump.

Anyway, Dell will make his fourth start of the year today when the Sharks host the Isles. He’ll be up against a fellow backup, as Thomas Greiss goes for New York.

Elsewhere…

Corey Crawford, who has lost three of his last four starts, goes for the ‘Hawks in Anaheim. No word yet on a Ducks starter.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who has lost his last four starts, gets the nod for Pittsburgh in Minnesota. No word yet on a Wild starter.

Braden Holtby gets a Black Friday vacation, as the Caps will go with Philipp Grubauer against the Sabres. Buffalo hasn’t unveiled its starter yet, but Robin Lehner has been used almost exclusively lately.

— It’s Connor Hellebuyck up against Pekka Rinne as the Jets take on the Preds in Nashville.

Chad Johnson, once again, will start over Brian Elliott for the Flames. It’s safe to call Johnson Calgary’s No. 1 netminder at this point. Boston played last night (Tuukka Rask was in goal), so no starting goalie announcement yet.

— Excellent matchup in Tampa Bay, as Sergei Bobrovsky and the Jackets take on Ben Bishop and the Bolts.

— An All-American matchup in New Jersey: Jimmy Howard versus Cory Schneider, as the Wings take on the Devils.

— Fresh off a win in Arizona on Wednesday, Ryan Miller is back in goal for the Canucks. He’ll take on Antti Niemi, after Kari Lehtonen allowed five goals in an OT loss to Vancouver two weeks ago.

Louis Domingue is hurt, so Mike Smith is the default starter for Arizona. Edmonton hasn’t named a starter yet, but no goalie has played more than Cam Talbot this year. It’s expected he’ll go.