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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Yakupov returns to Edmonton, playing noteworthy role with Blues

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Nail Yakupov returns to Edmonton tonight, for the first time since the Oct. 7 trade that sent him to St. Louis.

To nobody’s surprise, Yakupov wants to make a statement to the team that dealt him away.

“I’d like to get two points here in this building for sure,” Yakupov told reporters, per Global News. “Can’t wait.”

The first overall pick in 2012, Yakupov struggled through four erratic campaigns in Edmonton before getting a much-needed change of scenery. Though things started well — as a rookie, he scored 17 goals and 31 points during the 48-game lockout campaign — but eventually got to the point where the speedy Russian was playing a complimentary role, at best, in Edmonton’s forward group.

There were healthy scratches, injuries and a constant upheaval in terms of coaching and hockey operations.

The Oilers had four different head coaches and three different GMs during the Yakupov era.

In St. Louis, things are different. Much different.

For one, the club has been under Ken Hitchcock’s tutelage for the last six years. A veteran tactician with a keen eye for systems play, Hitchcock’s had the Blues playing their particular brand of hockey for a while now, featuring the tenets of his preferred style of play — low-event, tight-checking, defensive organization.

It’s something Yakupov noticed immediately upon arriving.

“You can tell really [we’re] disciplined the way we play, the way we practice. A few guys have been in the league for many years,” he said, per iNews880. “Everyone knows what to do on the ice.  You really want to be part of it.”

Yakupov, who only turned 23 earlier this month, has been making the most of his opportunity in St. Louis. He had a goal and an assist through his first four games while playing limited minutes, and apparently showed enough to warrant a bigger role tonight.

With various injuries up front, Hitchcock looks ready to slot Yakupov onto line with center Paul Stastny, and talented young winger Robby Fabbri.

Blues put Lehtera (upper body) on IR

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The injury Jori Lehtera suffered against the Rangers on Saturday will keep him out for the foreseeable future.

On Wednesday — one day after Lehtera missed St. Louis’ 2-1 OT loss in Vancouver — the Blues announced the 28-year-old was headed to injured reserve with an upper-body ailment.

A regular lineup presence over the last two years, Lehtera scored 44 points in 75 games two years ago, and 34 in 79 games last season (as well as nine in 20 playoff appearances).

His absence will hurt.

When healthy, Lehtera is a top-six forward and a frequent running mate of the team’s top sniper, Vladimir Tarasenko. He’s also one of the club’s top faceoff men and can contribute on special teams.

Much like previous seasons, the Blues are dealing with a rash of injuries at the moment. Lehtera was out of the lineup against the Canucks along with Kyle Brodziak, Carl Gunnarsson and Jaden Schwartz, all currently dealing with injuries.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Schwartz is anticipated to return next game — St. Louis plays in Edmonton on Thursday — and the ailments suffered by Brodziak and Gunnarsson aren’t believed to be serious.

Still, it’s of little relief to head coach Ken Hitchcock, who was asked what he thought of his team through four games.

“I can’t tell,” he said. “We don’t have it yet.”

Goalie nods: Howard makes season debut for Detroit

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Busy morning for goalie news (see here and here and here), juxtaposed with a relatively quiet evening on the ice — there are only two games and, therefore, only four starting announcements.

Let’s begin in New York, where Jimmy Howard will get his first start of the year as the Red Wings visit MSG.

Howard, who sat while Petr Mrazek got the nod in Detroit’s first three contests, jumps in to face a Blueshirts team he’s had good success against over the last three years, going 2-3-2 with a 1.84 GAA and .945 save percentage (stats courtesy Daily Faceoff.)

While Mrazek is the Red Wings’ No. 1, that job isn’t entirely locked in. Detroit hasn’t looked great to start the year and neither has Mrazek, though he did stop 31 of 32 shots against Ottawa in Monday’s win at Joe Louis.

For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist returns to action after Antti Raanta beat the Sharks two nights ago. Lundqvist lost his last start, 3-2 to St. Louis, and wasn’t overly tested, facing just 18 shots.

Elsewhere…

— Tonight’s only other game has the Maple Leafs in Winnipeg to face the Jets. Toronto will continue to ride Frederik Andersen, starting him for the third straight game, and Andersen will look to build off Saturday’s 24-save effort in a 4-1 win over Boston.

For Winnipeg, Michael Hutchinson returns to the net as the Jets look for some consistency in goal. Connor Hellebuyck started two of the first three games but didn’t fare especially well, allowing seven goals on 51 shots (.863 save percentage).

The Jets are trying to figure out what they have in goal this year, and it looks like both Hutchinson and Hellebuyck will get a shot at proving they’re No. 1-caliber netminders, now that Ondrej Pavelec is buried in the American League.

Flyers lose Raffl to upper-body injury

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The reported abdominal pull Michael Raffl suffered in Tuesday’s 7-4 loss to Chicago will keep him out of the Flyers lineup for the next while.

On Wednesday, GM Ron Hextall said Raffl will miss the next 10-14 days with the ailment.

Raffl, 28, had one goal through the first three games of the season, and opened the year on the club’s top line next to Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. The Austrian winger has been a good goalscorer for the Flyers over the last two campaigns, netting 13 goals last year and a career-best 21 during the ’14-15 campaign.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s timing. Brayden Schenn is set to return from his suspension, and could plug the lineup hole left by Raffl’s injury.

It’s also possible Nick Cousins could be back in tomorrow when the Flyers host the Ducks.

Cousins was dropped from the Blackhawks game so the club could give KHL free agent signing Roman Lyubimov his NHL debut, and the Russian received just over 10 minutes of ice time.

As for Raffl, the 10-14 day recovery window means he’ll likely miss five games — Anaheim, Carolina, Montreal, Buffalo, Arizona — but could be back in time for a big tilt on Saturday, Oct. 29, when the Flyers take on their bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

 

Zero wins, too many penalties force Ducks to ‘look in the mirror’

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The slow start in Anaheim was predictable.

The Ducks opened their season with a “very difficult” road trip — five straight games through Dallas, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Newark and Philly. They’re also without two key pieces in Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell, and just 12 months removed from a ghastly 1-7-2 start last season.

So the built-in excuses are there.

But the team wants no part of them.

“Everybody has to look themselves in the mirror,” Ryan Kesler said following Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Devils, per the O.C. Register. “I don’t think anybody was good enough tonight to win that hockey game. We’re close but once again we’re not there.

“We’ve been through it before. We’re probably going to go through it again during the stretch of this year. We just need everybody collectively to look in the mirror.”

If the Ducks follow Kesler’s urging for self-reflection, they’ll probably see the penalty box somewhere in the background.

Discipline’s been an issue thus far. The Ducks have been whistled for 19 minor penalties already — fifth-most in the league — and while they did a good job of killing them in their first three games, it cost them last night.

New Jersey converted two of its seven power play opportunities. Things were especially bad in the second period, when Anaheim was dinged for five straight penalties — Kesler, Emerson Etem, Antoine Vermette, Nick Sorensen and Kevin Bieksa, if you’re keeping track — a procession that head coach Randy Carlyle called “unacceptable” and “frustrating.”

Add it all up, and the Ducks now head into Thursday’s game at Wells Fargo sporting a 0-3-1 record.

It’s hardly the end of the world — three of the four losses came by one goal, and the club got a point off the Islanders — but one can sense pressure mounting.

Remember, GM Bob Murray faced criticism for bringing Carlyle back into the fold to replace Bruce Boudreau. Rakell is now signed, but still needs to obtain a work visa and recover from abdominal surgery.

Everything remains quiet on the Lindholm front.

The bottom-six forward group is a work in progress — Etem, claimed off waivers from Vancouver, made his team debut against New Jersey — and the defense is still without the services of Simon Despres, who’s dealing with a possible concussion.

The Ducks showed last year they can rebound from a bad start, finishing with 103 points and the Pacific Division title.

Bet they’d like to avoid digging out of a similar hole this year, though.