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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‘Canes bolstered by the returns of Staal, Lindholm

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Carolina will have major lineup reinforcements tonight when it hosts Vancouver at PNC.

Jordan Staal, who’s missed the last seven games with a concussion, and Elias Lindholm — out since Dec. 1 with a lower-body injury — will both draw back in this evening, as the ‘Canes begin an important four-game homestand.

The returns will be huge.

Staal has a pretty big role in Carolina, and is the club’s top defensive center. He averages a healthy 18:29 TOI per game, and is one of the club’s best faceoff men, winning draws at a 60 percent clip.

Lindholm, the fifth overall pick in 2013, was off to a bit of a slow start with just seven points through 23 games, but is also a top-six forward coming off back-to-back 39-point campaigns.

The ‘Canes recently wrapped a three-game California trip, and fared reasonably well by securing three points. The highlight was a 3-1 win in Los Angeles last Thursday, in which journeyman Derek Ryan scored a pair of markers.

Based on this morning’s line rushes, Staal and Lindholm were together on the top unit alongside Joakim Nordstrom.

Travis Hamonic has some thoughts on his league-worst minus-17 rating

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Though plus-minus has been discredited as a meaningful stat in recent years — and we’ll just avoid this part of the conversation entirely, thanks — some folks still pay attention to it.

Why? Well, it does remain one of the sortable metrics on NHL.com’s player stats page and, should you go there and sift through, you’ll see that Islanders d-man Travis Hamonic ranks dead last, with a minus-17 rating through 24 games played.

“Do I know it’s there? Sure,” Hamonic said of this plus-minus, per Newsday. “Sometimes things are your fault, but I can’t change it. Fresh slate, play better. It’s a tough question to answer.

“I can’t go online and remove it. You’re stupid if you don’t see it, but like any stat, there’s a lot that goes into it.”

We’ve seen players allude to their ugly ratings before. When Jason Spezza hit minus-17 during the ’13-14 campaign, he admitted it was “frustrating.” That same season, Chicago’s Patrick Kane got off to a slow start with a minus-9 rating, and acknowledged it was “a number that obviously didn’t look good.”

Hamonic has struggled at times this year, but has also been a victim of circumstance. The Isles in general have been lousy, sitting 19th in shots per game (29.3) while surrendering the third-most in the NHL (32.4). Hamonic’s regular d-man partner Nick Leddy hasn’t played especially well either — he had an awful turnover against the Jackets on Saturday, which ended up in the back of the Isles net — and, as a result, the pair has had a tough time.

Advanced metrics confirm as much. Both Leddy and Hamonic are hovering around 43 percent CF for the season. Per Newsday, that ranks both among the bottom 25 players in the league.

If there’s a silver lining for Hamonic, it’s that he may not have the NHL’s worst plus-minus for long. Hot on his heels are a pair of skaters at minus-16: Vancouver’s Brandon Sutter, and Calgary’s T.J. Brodie.

Goalie nods: Smith goes again for Coyotes, who are still allowing a ton of shots

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Considering Mike Smith is one of the oldest goalies in the league and missed a month with a lower-body injury earlier this year, you’d think the Coyotes would try and shelter him a little bit.

But that really, really hasn’t been the case.

Smith has faced an average of 38 shots over his last 11 games — including 45 in a win over the Preds on Saturday — and he figures to get another bunch thrown at him tonight when the Coyotes take on the high-flying Penguins in Pittsburgh.

The 34-year-old’s run of crazy shot totals began in his second game back from injury — on Nov. 11, he made 43 saves in a 3-2 OT win over the Sharks.

A week later, he faced 42 shots in back-to-back games in Edmonton and San Jose.

A week after that, the Blue Jackets put up a franchise record 60 shots in a shootout win. Smith made 58 saves, which was also a Coyotes franchise record.

Following the Columbus debacle, the Coyotes “held” Chicago to 27 shots, but then surrendered 35 in a loss to Calgary and the aforementioned 45 against the Preds over the weekend.

In light of all this, what Smith’s done this season is (rightly) being met with the highest of praise. He boasts a tremendous .931 save percentage and has received huge kudos from his teammates.

“The last two weeks he’s been in a zone. That’s the only reason we’re even remotely close to getting points or getting any type of team success,” captain Shane Doan told Arizona Sports, after the Columbus game. “That’s like 1980s. It’s pretty impressive what he did.”

For the Pens, looks like Matt Murray starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Just one other matchup tonight, but it’s a good one: Tuukka Rask and the Bruins visit Carey Price and the Canadiens in an Original Six rivalry. Price last played in Saturday’s 10-1 whipping of the Avs, while Rask allowed three goals in just 19 shots in a disappointing loss to the Leafs.

Oilers lose Nurse (ankle surgery) for three months

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Edmonton’s defense was dealt a major blow on Monday, as GM Peter Chiarelli announced Darnell Nurse would miss the next 12 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair ligament and bone damage in his ankle.

Nurse, 21, was the seventh overall pick in 2013 and had been a mainstay on the club’s blueline. He averaged just under 18 minutes a night through 25 games this year — scoring three goals and five points — while racking up 60 hits, which was second among all Oilers d-men.

Nurse is a big, physical presence that head coach Todd McLellan referred to as “a very important part of our group.” Whether it’s coincidence or not, it should be mentioned that — after Nurse was knocked out of the lineup on Dec. 3 against Winnipeg — the Oilers surrendered 14 goals over their next four games.

This injury, along with the one suffered by Brandon Davidson earlier in the year, has thinned out the Edmonton blueline. McLellan used a six-man unit comprised of Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, Kris Russell, Andrej Sekera, Matthew Benning and Dillon Simpson in last night’s win over the Jets, with Russell and Sekera the high minute-men (each with over 24:00 TOI).

 

Slumping Devils ‘can’t just sit there and start pointing fingers’

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After a nice start to the year — they were 9-3-3 on Nov. 15 — the Devils have hit the skids lately. Sunday’s 5-0 blowout loss to the Rangers was their third in a row and, all told, they’re just 3-7-3 in their last 13 games.

Needless to say, New Jersey needs to turn things around.

“We got in this together, we have to get out of it together,” captain Andy Greene said, per NorthJersey.com. “We can’t just sit there and start pointing fingers and blaming guys, blaming someone else.”

Of course, there are individuals that could shoulder some blame.

A big reason for New Jersey’s hot start was the play of netminder Cory Schneider (and, to a lesser degree, backup Keith Kinkaid). Schneider has come back to earth recently, though, and Sunday’s loss was the eighth time in the last nine starts he’s given up at least three goals. As a result, his numbers on the year have come back to earth as well — 9-8-1, 2.83 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

Head coach John Hynes didn’t exactly call Schneider out after the Rangers game but did say that he, along with the rest of the Devils, needed to be better.

Offensively, the club has scored just three times over the current three-game losing streak. Kyle Palmieri, who scored a career-high 30 goals last year, has just four through 26 games and is on pace for a mere 12. He’s found the net just once over his last 12 contests.

The Devils could also be feeling a sense of deja vu.

They got off to a good start last year, too — 10-6-1 in mid-November — but couldn’t sustain that success, and finished 12 points back of the final wild card berth in the Eastern Conference.

All of this makes for a hugely important rest of December, but it won’t be easy. New Jersey has a tough, quirky schedule — after playing the next three on the road, it returns home for dates against the Preds and Flyers. Then it’s a home-and-home series against the Penguins on the Dec. 23 and 27, followed by another home-and-home against the Caps on the 29th and 31st.