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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Detroit loses Vanek, Larkin ahead of key tilt against B’s

It’s been an injury-plagued campaign in the Motor City, and now that bug has carried over to two of the club’s top forwards.

Thomas Vanek — the team’s leading scorer this season, with 31 points — and speedy sophomore Dylan Larkin will both miss tomorrow’s crucial game in Boston with their respective injuries, per NHL.com.

Larkin, 20, is out for the next two games with an upper-body ailment suffered in Sunday’s 1-0 OT loss to the Rangers. Though he’s struggled in his second professional season — just 18 points in 47 games — he had shown signs of coming on lately.

In fact, Larkin starred in last week’s wild 6-5 comeback win against the Bruins, scoring his 12th goal of the year while recording his first multi-point effort since October.

As for Vanek, he also suffered an injury on Sunday — of the lower-body variety — that will temporarily derail what’s been a solid bounce-back campaign (Vanek is day-to-day, per GM Ken Holland).

The 33-year-old has shown well in Detroit after getting bought out by Minnesota last summer — as mentioned above, he’s tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the club lead in scoring and it’s fair to suggest he’s been Detroit’s best player this season, even though injuries have limited him to just 36 games played.

The Wings head into tomorrow’s action four points back of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, and four back of Philly for the final wild card spot. If they’re going to extend their historic playoff appearance streak, every game matters — yes, even ones now, in late January.

Goalie nods: Talbot starts for 43rd time in 48 games

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No rest for the weary in Edmonton — though to be clear, there’s only one Oiler that currently fits that bill.

Cam Talbot, who’s emerged as the NHL’s busiest workhorse, will make his league-leading 43rd start tonight when the Oilers host the Preds at Rogers Place.

That’s right. Forty-three starts, and tonight is Edmonton’s 48th game of the season.

Talbot isn’t just the league leader in starts, either — he also sits top of the table in minutes played, shots faced and saves.

“We’re playing it one game at a time — Cam’s fresh and ready,” Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said of his starter’s workload, per the team’s Twitter account. “We’ll worry about Calgary tomorrow.”

Ah yes, Calgary. The Oilers and Flames clash tomorrow night in the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta. That led our very own Jason Brough to speculate that Laurent Brossoit might get the start tonight, thereby giving Talbot some rest in advance of a key divisional — and nationally televised — battle.

But now, who knows? Talbot’s fully embracing his workload, and McLellan doesn’t seem too concerned about overworking him. Heck, Talbot could be right back out there tomorrow.

Anyway, the Preds. Pekka Rinne gets the nod tonight, after Juuse Saros scored the win in Calgary on Thursday.

Elsewhere…

Corey Crawford has started five in a row, so Scott Darling gets a shot in Boston. Darling’s last outing was a 39-save win over the ‘Canes on Jan. 6. He’ll be up against Tukka Rask, who has lost two in a row while giving up eight goals.

— After replacing Jared Coreau in a comeback win over Boston, Petr Mrazek starts for the Wings in Buffalo. He’ll be up against Anders Nilsson, who replaced Robin Lehner in a loss to Toronto on Tuesday. That game, of course, was the one in which Lehner freaked out after getting pulled.

— One of the NHL’s other busy netminders, Carolina’s Cam Ward, will make his 39th start of the year as the ‘Canes host the Pens. Matt Murray is in goal for Pittsburgh.

Al Montoya gets the nod for Montreal in New Jersey, looking to extend his personal winning streak to four games. No word yet on a Devils starter.

Roberto Luongo returns to Vancouver and, fittingly, gets the start. He’ll have the benefit of some rest, too, as James Reimer played on Wednesday in a shootout loss in Edmonton. For the Canucks, Ryan Miller will look to continue his hot streak — he’s 4-0-2 in his last six, with a .946 save percentage.

They fixed the defense, but now poor offense is ‘killing’ the Bolts

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Two weeks ago, Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said the team had lost its defensive mindset. His remarks came during a four-game losing streak in which the Bolts surrendered a whopping 22 goals.

Since then, things have tightened up considerably. Tampa Bay has only surrendered 10 goals over the last five games — which coincided with Ben Bishop‘s return from injury — but now, there’s a new problem at hand.

The Bolts can’t score.

“It’s not for a lack of trying, not for lack of chances,” head coach Jon Cooper said following Thursday’s 2-1 loss in San Jose, per the Tampa Bay times. “The shooting sights are off on the stick, too many missed nets.

“It’s killing us.”

After scoring four times in a win over Buffalo on Jan. 12, the Lightning offense has really dried up. They were only able to beat Sergei Bobrovsky once in a loss to Columbus on Jan. 13, then squeezed out a 2-1 win over the Kings on Monday.

Tampa then suffered consecutive 2-1 defeats in Anaheim (in OT) and San Jose.

All told, it has just five goals in the last four games.

One could point to all the missing bodies as a reason for the slump. Steven Stamkos‘ absence looms large. And while fellow injured forwards Ryan Callahan, J.T. Brown and Brayden Point aren’t elite offensive guys by any stretch, they were relied upon for depth production.

Not having Victor Hedman is a problem, too. The minute-munching blueliner generated plenty of offense from the back end, and is second only to Brent Burns in d-man scoring across the league.

This isn’t to say Tampa Bay is bereft of scoring options, though. Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn were all in the lineup last night. Killorn had a terrific chance for an equalizer late in regulation, but sailed his shot from the slot wide of the net.

“It was a grade-A chance,” Killorn said, per the Times. “And I missed.”

Tampa Bay needs to figure this all out, and fast. While the Bolts are only three points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, they’ve got to hurdle four teams — Philly, Carolina, Florida and New Jersey — to get there.

Thankfully, there’s some promise on the horizon. The Lightning are in Arizona tomorrow night, to play a Coyotes team that ranks 29th in the NHL in goals allowed.

Leafs claim Griffith off waivers… again

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Seth “suitcase” Griffith is off to join another team — a team he’s joined once already this season.

On Friday, the Leafs announced they’ve claimed Griffith off waivers, just two months after exposing him on the wire and losing him to Florida.

Toronto had originally acquired Griffith off — yup, you guessed it, waivers! — when the B’s cut him loose just prior to the start of the regular season.

The 23-year-old, who played under Leafs assistant GM Mark Hunter in OHL London, appeared in three games for Toronto this season, going pointless. Griffith had a bigger role in Florida — notching five assists in 21 games — but suffered a concussion earlier this month and, after recovering, was a healthy scratch for three straight games.

Per multiple sources, the Leafs are sending Griffith straight to their AHL affiliate, the Marlies.

 

 

After Allen’s horrific night, Blues call up a goalie (Update: Allen won’t travel to Winnipeg)

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A new twist in the St. Louis goaltending drama on Friday — after a disastrous home loss against Washington, the Blues have recalled Pheonix Copley from AHL Chicago.

Copley, 25, was one of the players acquired in the T.J. Oshie-to-Washington trade. He’s played well this season, sitting 10th in the AHL in wins (11) and ninth in both GAA (2.32) and save percentage (.920).

To date, Copley has played in one NHL contest, coming on in relief of Jake Allen in a loss to Nashville last February.

UPDATE (per the Post-Dispatch): There was additional drama this afternoon, as Blues GM Doug Armstrong said Allen wouldn’t travel with the Blues for Saturday’s game in Winnipeg, giving him a chance to “reset.”

Copley or Carter Hutton will face the Jets.

Armstrong went on to say the majority of Allen’s issues are mental, but insisted he’s still the club’s “long-term goaltender.”

We’ve written plenty about Allen’s struggles this year (see here, here, here and here), and things hit rock bottom on Thursday. He was hooked by Ken Hitchcock after allowing two goals on three shots to start the game, but was sent back in just a few minute later — a classic Hitchcockian move, designed to give his goalie an in-game reset.

But it didn’t work.

Hitch was forced to hook Allen for good in the second period, after the Caps scored for the fourth time — on just 10 shots.

Afterward, Hitchcock admitted his No. 1 netminder is a mess.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, per Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

To their credit, the Blues have tried to shake things up, like parking Allen and going with Hutton.

Hutton has fared well in small stretches but, this week, he was given a chance to start three games in a row and bombed in the third, allowing five goals in just 23 shots in a loss to Ottawa.

So, enter Copley. It’s asking a lot of him to try and turn things around but, at this point, the Blues are desperate and have to try something.

Anything, really.