Mike Halford

You've heard the expression "let's get busy?" Well, Mike Halford is a blogger who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.
Getty

Flames healthy scratch slumping Bennett

The tough times just got tougher for Sam Bennett.

Bennett, the fourth overall pick in 2014, will be a healthy scratch tonight when the Flames host the Preds at the Saddledome, head coach Glen Gulutzan announced.

The 20-year-old is in the midst of an awful slump. Bennett hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 27 and is pointless in his last 10 games — not the kind of production the team was anticipating, especially after he scored 18 goals and 36 points in his rookie campaign last season.

“It’s frustrating when you’re not producing,” Bennett said earlier this week, per the Calgary Sun. “I want to contribute offensively. But just playing the right way is my main focus. Hopefully, I keep getting chances and eventually one has gotta go in.”

Micheal Ferland will move into the lineup to replace Bennett, and veteran Matt Stajan will be bumped up to the third-line center spot as a result.

Given his pedigree and draft position, expectations for Bennett are pretty high. Calgary anticipated he’d be part of the young, talented forward group that carries the load offensively, alongside the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk.

And to be fair, Bennett did have a decent start to the year, with 12 points through his first 24 games.

But it’s been tough sledding ever since.

‘No doubt…a confidence issue’ with Lundqvist

Getty
8 Comments

These are rough times for the King.

Henrik Lundqvist, who for the better part of a decade has been a brick wall for the Rangers, is going through arguably the toughest stretch of his career. He allowed seven goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Stars on Tuesday, and 12 on 49 shots in his last four periods played.

If you go back over his last four games, it’s a staggering 20 goals on 113 shots.

His head coach knows something is wrong.

“There’s no doubt that there is a confidence issue with Hank,” Alain Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “Hank has had some moments in the past, probably never to this degree.

“So he’s in new territory, we’re in new territory to some extent.”

As Vigneault said, Lundqvist’s had some struggles before. The end of last year wasn’t very good — he struggled in late in the year, and was torched in an opening-round playoff loss to the Penguins.

Thing is, both Lundqvist and the Rangers conceded a large part of those struggles were due to the guys playing in front of him, and all the glorious scoring opportunities they allowed.

So it’s telling that Vigneault and Lundqvist aren’t using that theory this time around. In fact, AV went to far as to suggest the opposite — that Lundqvist’s poor play is actually affecting the guys in front of him.

“Sometimes that can trickle down a little bit with the other guys when something happens on the ice,” he explained.

The other big difference with this particular stretch of struggle is that there’s no safety valve. Lundqvist’s traditionally had good backups — Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta, most notably — but Raanta is now sidelined with injury, leaving untested Magnus Hellberg as the club’s No. 2.

(Even during his World Cup struggles, Lundqvist had a capable backup in Jacob Markstrom to lighten the load.)

As such, it’s solely on King Henrik to turn this around. And he knows it.

“I feel like it’s embarrassing and frustrating and disappointing at the same time,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I need to find another level.

“It’s not good enough.”

Varlamov injured, again, as questions arise about future in Colorado

Getty
2 Comments

So, an interesting series of events for the Avs on Wednesday.

First, the club announced that No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov‘s troublesome groin — one that’s hampered him throughout the last two seasons — will sideline him for the next two weeks.

“We’re going to shut [Varlamov] down until after the All-Star break [Jan. 27-30],” coach Jared Bednar told the Avalanche website. “This is no longer a day-to-day thing.”

Varlamov, who turns 29 in April, has struggled with health and consistency since his banner ’13-14 campaign — the one in which he led the NHL with 41 wins, finished second in Vezina voting and fourth for the Hart Trophy.

He appeared in 57 games in each of the last two seasons, but his save percentage steadily dropped (from .921 to .914). This year, he’s only played 24 times, and he’s at an ugly .898.

Given he’s nearly 30 and trending in the wrong direction, it wasn’t entirely surprising to read this today, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

We’ve been focusing on defencemen as what the Avalanche will be acquiring for one of their cornerstone forwards.

But don’t be surprised if a goalie becomes a focal point of the conversation, too. I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.

Varlamov’s smack in the middle of a five-year, $29.5 million extension, one that carries a $5.9 million cap hit. That’s a big financial obligation. Outside of Varly, Colorado has a young ‘tender in Calvin Pickard — the 24-year-old in his first full year as Varlamov’s backup — but right now, it’s unclear if the Avs see him as a potential No. 1.

It’s also unclear what the organization thinks of Spencer Martin, the 63rd overall pick in ’13. Martin’s played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year, and is still just 21 years old.

Add it all up, and the goaltending situation is just another wrinkle in what’s become a very complex situation for Colorado.

Goalie nods: Pavelec to make season debut for Jets

Getty

Well, it’s come to this for the Winnipeg Jets.

Undone all year by shaky netminding from Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, the Jets finally saw enough this week and recalled veteran Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL.

Tonight, Pavelec makes his season debut when the Jets host the Coyotes at the MTS Centre.

Waived just prior to the start of the regular season, Pavelec — in the final year of a much-maligned five-year, $19.5 million contract — passed through unclaimed and was dispatched to Manitoba, where he’s performed reasonably well.

The 29-year-old posted a .917 save percentage in 18 games and, while that’s hardly the stuff of legend, his play was steadily improving prior to his recall. On Sunday, he stopped 42 of 43 shots in a win over Chicago.

The big question, of course, is if Pavelec can show some consistency, which he’s always lacked at the NHL level. He went 13-13-4 with a .904 save percentage last season, and his career save rate is just .907.

For the Coyotes, Mike Smith is in goal.

Elsewhere…

Matt Murray, fresh off allowing seven goals in a win over Washington, goes for the Pens in Montreal. He’ll be up against Carey Price, who’s struggled lately and has just an .886 save percentage in January.

Jared Coreau has two shutouts in his last four start for Detroit, so the Wings will go back to him tonight when they host the B’s. Tuukka Rask, hooked in Monday’s ugly loss to the Isles, goes for Boston.

Roberto Luongo gets the night off after Florida lost in Calgary last night, meaning James Reimer goes in Edmonton. The Oilers will go with Cam Talbot, who’s embracing his heavy workload this season.

— Speaking of heavy workloads, Martin Jones will be back in for the Sharks tonight, as they travel to Los Angeles. He’ll be up against Peter Budaj.

Burmistrov expecting ‘weird, awkward’ return to Winnipeg

Getty
1 Comment

It’s been two weeks since the Coyotes claimed Alexander Burmistrov off waivers from the Jets but, because of visa issues, tonight will be just Burmistrov’s second game in an Arizona uniform.

And it’ll be in Winnipeg, against his former team.

“It’s going to be a special night,” Burmistrov said, per NHL.com. “I’m sure it’s going to be weird, awkward, seeing your ex-teammates skating on the other side in the warmup.”

It’s been a weird, awkward season for the 25-year-old Russian. After appearing in 81 games last year — racking up a career-high 21 points — he became an afterthought in Winnipeg, often sitting as a (frustrated) healthy scratch.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice acknowledged the role Burmistrov wanted — something in the top-9 — probably wasn’t going to happen in Winnipeg, so the club set about letting him get a fresh start elsewhere.

Arizona was happy to grab him.

“[Burmistrov’s] a guy our scouts for a long time have identified as someone they think has got more potential than what he’s shown,” GM John Chayka said shortly after the waiver claim, per the Coyotes website. “(Claiming him) was unanimous across the board with our scouts, which is actually fairly rare.”

Burmistrov played a fairly significant role in his first game with the Coyotes. He received just under 18 minutes of ice time and finished with an assist in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Oilers, getting the primary helper on Radim Vrbata‘s power-play goal.