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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Goalie nods: Bolts start Budaj, even though Vasilevskiy’s on fire

An interesting decision from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper — even though Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s been a huge part of his club’s recent surge back into playoff contention, it’ll be Peter Budaj who starts in tonight’s crucial tilt against the Rangers.

“We’ve had a lot of success with Vasy,” Cooper said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “And playing him every third day, he’s played really well. When he went through this stretch of playing back-to-backs in December, I just don’t know if it was too much, too soon either we weren’t good in front of him or he wasn’t at the top of his game.

“Our No. 1 goal is to make the playoffs, but still our goaltender is young and developing. We’ve got him in a really good grove here, there’s no sense in breaking that groove. There’s a lot of games he still has to play.”

Vasilevskiy is 5-0-1 over his last six starts and has posted a .951 save percentage over his last five appearances, so going to Buadj tonight is a pretty significant move.

The veteran only has one start since coming over from L.A. in the Ben Bishop trade, and there’s so much on the line — with a win and and Isles regulation loss (to the ‘Canes), Tampa Bay would draw even with New York on points, and move one back of idle Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

No word yet on a Rangers starter for tonight, though it’s expected Antti Raanta will get the call.

Elsewhere…

— Clinging to their slim playoff chances, the Flyers will go back to Steve Mason when they host the Jackets. Mason allowed two goals on 27 shots in a loss to Boston over the weekend, and has played well lately. No word yet on a Columbus starter.

Jean-Francois Berube gives Thomas Greiss the night off as the Isles host the ‘Canes. Cam Ward is in for Carolina.

— With no other options really available, Connor Hellebuyck will start again for the Jets, despite his recent struggles. It looks as though the host Preds will counter with Pekka Rinne.

— Coming off a 31-save shutout of Winnipeg over the weekend, the red-hot Brian Elliott starts again for the Flames. Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s also played well of late, goes for Pittsburgh.

Ryan Miller was brilliant against Pittsburgh on Saturday, stopping 45 of 47 shots, and will go right back in when the Canucks host the Bruins. No word yet on a Boston starter.

— In a huge game for Western Conference wild card jockeying, the Kings and Blues will roll with their No. 1s: Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles, Jake Allen for St. Louis.

Mike Smith‘s in goal when the Coyotes host the Avs. No word yet on a Colorado starter.

Fresh out of Swiss League, Shore to make Canucks debut tonight

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On Saturday, Drew Shore was playing for EHC Kloten in Switzerland’s National League A.

Life moves fast.

On Monday, the Canucks announced that Shore — signed over the weekend on a prorated deal for the remainder of the year — would make his season debut tonight, when Vancouver hosts Boston at Rogers Arena.

“He’s a good two-way player,” head coach Willie Desjardins said, per the team’s Twitter account. “Has some size and experience.”

Shore, 26, is the older brother of Kings forward Nick Shore, and had appeared in 80 games with the Flames and Panthers prior to heading overseas this year. As Desjardins mentioned, he does have good size — 6-foot-3, 205 pounds — and was extremely productive in the Swiss League this year, scoring 48 points in 50 games.

That made Shore the league’s sixth-leading scorer, and put him among some familiar names. NHL journeyman Mark Arcobello led all scorers with 55 points, and the top-10 included the likes of Shore, Roman Cervenka, Robert Nilsson and Dustin Jeffrey.

“That league is no joke,” Canucks forward (and Swiss native) Sven Baertschi said, per the Province. “There are great players over there.”

Shore’s arrival is just the latest for a team that’s seen plenty of new faces over the last few weeks. Following the trade deadline departures of veterans Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows, the Canucks have worked in the likes of Nikolay Goldobin (acquired in the Hansen deal with San Jose) and Joseph Cramaraossa (scooped off waivers from Anaheim).

Prior to that, injuries and a team-wide mumps outbreak saw the likes of AHLers Evan McEneny, Borna Rendulic, Alexandre Grenier, Joseph Labate and Richard Bachman all get action at the NHL level.

Coyotes ready for prized prospect Keller to go pro

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Clayton Keller’s had a pretty terrific year, and it might get even better.

Keller, taken seventh overall by Arizona at last year’s draft, is in the midst of a banner freshman campaign at Boston University. He’s racked up 40 points through 28 games, this after pacing the U.S. to gold at the World Juniors. Keller finished third in the tourney in scoring, and was named to the All-Star team.

The 18-year-old recently topped TSN’s list of the best prospects yet to join their NHL teams, and now Coyotes GM John Chayka sounds like he’s prepared to change that.

From USA Today:

The Coyotes hope to sign prize prospect Clayton Keller as soon as his season at Boston University is over, Chayka told USA TODAY Sports.

“I think (Keller’s) ready to take that next step for sure,” Chayka told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s been a dominant player at that level and the world junior championships. We think he’s a special player who can make an impact on a team.”

Keller, developed in the St. Louis area, is a 5-10 forward who has been compared to Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane.

The real intrigue here will be if Arizona gets Keller into an NHL game this season.

Chayka said the club’s amateur scouting director told him Keller “could have played in the American League this year and we could have called him up and down,” which is interesting. The Coyotes have given seven different prospects their big-league debuts this season, including 18-year-old Jakob Chychrun — the defenseman taken nine spots after Keller at last summer’s draft.

Of course, Keller is still deeply entrenched at BU.

The Terriers advanced to the Hockey East semifinals this weekend by sweeping Northeastern. Currently ranked eighth in the country, BU is a contender to advance to the Frozen Four, which will be played from April 6-8 at the United Center.

Should BU go all the way, it won’t leave much opportunity for Keller with the Coyotes. Their final game of the year is on Apr. 8 against the Wild, but their AHL affiliate in Tucson plays right through ’til Apr. 15.

Red-hot Sens lose Stone to injury, but Turris expected back

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Ottawa, who has moved to within two points of Montreal for tops in the Atlantic thanks to its current six-game winning streak, got some tough news on Monday as Mark Stone was ruled out “week-to-week” with a lower-body ailment.

Stone, tied for the club lead with 22 goals, last played in Thursday’s 3-2 OT win over Arizona. He sat out Saturday’s victory against Colorado and will now miss the team’s upcoming three-game homestand — which starts tomorrow against Tampa Bay, continues Thursday against Chicago and concludes Saturday with a huge game against the aforementioned Habs.

Thankfully for Ottawa, a pair of fellow injured forwards appear close to returning.

Kyle Turris, tied with Stone on 22 goals, looks to return from a three-game absence against the Bolts tomorrow. It also sounds like Bobby Ryan is close to coming back from a finger injury that’s kept him out since Feb. 18, as GM Pierre Dorion said the club expects Ryan to resume playing this week.

The Sens will undoubtedly be a team to watch down the stretch. They have two games in hand on Montreal, and will play the Canadiens three times over a seven-day stretch in March (18th in Ottawa, 19th and 25th in Montreal).

 

 

What a turnaround from Jonathan Bernier

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On Monday, Jonathan Bernier continued his improbable rebound by capturing the NHL’s second star of the week.

From the league:

Bernier went 3-0-0 with a 1.62 goals-against average, .948 save percentage and one shutout to lift the Ducks (36-23-10, 82 points) into second place in the Pacific Division. He made 24 saves through overtime – and turned aside all five attempts he faced in the shootout – in a 4-3 victory against the Nashville Predators March 7.

Bernier then recorded 43 saves in earning his 14th career shutout via a 1-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks March 9. He finished the week with 25 stops in a 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals March 12.

The 28-year-old Laval, Que., native owns a 13-7-2 record with a 2.69 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and two shutouts in 29 appearances this season, his first with the Ducks.

It was that long ago — mid-January, in fact — that we wrote about Bernier going 23 days between starts, a situation that was “not easy” to deal with. Things didn’t get much better from there.

Bernier’s did play all that much — or well — in February, making just five appearances and finishing with a .896 save percentage. The low point came in a 3-2 loss to Arizona, in which Bernier was yanked after allowing three goals on six shots in the first period.

“Looks bad on him,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said at the time. “But I think you have to blame this one on his teammates.”

Heading into the March 1 trade deadline, there were rumblings Anaheim would target a veteran backup for No. 1 John Gibson (Vancouver’s Ryan Miller was mentioned). There were legitimate questions about how much the Ducks trusted Bernier if Gibson either suffered through a stretch of poor play, or injury.

Then, the latter happened. Gibson suffered a lower-body injury on Feb. 20, and the club was forced to trust in Bernier.

The results have been fantastic.

Bernier’s now started eight of the last nine for Anaheim, with Gibson returning from his lower-body ailment in Friday’s 4-3 loss to St. Louis. This development has given Carlyle the flexibility to rest Gibson as he sees fit — and perhaps given Bernier new life heading into the summer.

A pending UFA, Bernier’s recent run could bump his stock on the open market, which figures to be fairly flush. Names like Miller, Ben Bishop, Steve Mason and Brian Elliott could all be available. Projections suggest there won’t be many jobs available, meaning Bernier will be in tough to carve out his niche.

But if he continues to play the way he has, teams will certainly come calling.