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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Kesler the latest to target Johnny Gaudreau

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If it wasn’t obvious already, it is now — there’s a big ol’ target on Johnny Gaudreau.

Gaudreau, one of the league’s most dynamic offensive talents, is also one of the most diminutive. As such, there’s been plenty of attention paid by opponents this season in the form of hacks, whacks and physical play.

He’s already missed 10 games this year to a broken finger — which, per Flames GM Brad Treliving, happened on the 11th slash Gaudreau received in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 — and on Thursday night, Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler shared his strategy on shutting down Johnny Hockey.

“They embarrassed us last time [8-3, on Dec. 4] and we wanted a response,” Kesler said, per the O.C. Register. “I thought our team responded pretty well. We’re good when we’re hard to play against. Particularly me. I thought if I had a chance to get a lick on him, I would.

“Obviously he’s a smaller guy and he likes to have his skating room. Doesn’t like to get touched. You can see the way their team reacted when you do that.”

It’s a telling statement, and not just because of targeting Gaudreau. Kesler also noticed how the Flames reacted.

That’s key.

In the aftermath of slash-gate, Calgary was livid. Players and management talked plenty about the treatment of their leading scorer, and Treliving acknowledged he spoke with NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom about the situation.

Kesler wasn’t the only opponent to notice the Flames’ response.

Two weeks after the Nov. 15 game, Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said Calgary “made a mountain out of a molehill” over the Gaudreau slash. Boudreau also apparently anticipated a reaction because, in the rematch between the two clubs on Dec. 2, he gave 6-foot-4, 211-pound tough guy Kurtis Gabriel his season debut.

Moving forward, this will be a situation worth monitoring, because teams are realizing that rattling Gaudreau isn’t just about ratting Gaudreau — it’s also about rattling the Flames.

Related: Gaudreau injury a reminder to how star players are defended and treated

Jets put Dano on IR after scary end boards crash

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Winnipeg’s had its fair share of major injuries this season, and suffered another one on Thursday night.

Marko Dano, the former first-round pick acquired in the Andrew Ladd-to-Chicago trade, has been placed on IR after a nasty crash in last night’s loss to Columbus.

“It’s not good,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said of Dano’s lower-body injury, per the Winnipeg Sun. “We’re talking about weeks, easy.”

Dano went feet-first into the end boards behind the Columbus goal during the second period, and immediately began writhing in pain. He had to be helped off the ice by teammates and, obviously, did not return to the game.

The 22-year-old opened the year with Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate, but has been fairly productive since being recalled in early November. Dano had 10 points through 28 games, while averaging 11:28 TOI per night.

With Dano out, the Jets recalled Andrew Copp from Manitoba. Winnipeg is still without injured forward Alexander Burmistrov and blueliner Tyler Myers.

 

A pair of rookies are playing ‘huge roles’ for streaking Sharks

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On the surface, things are the same as they’ve always been in San Jose. The club is still really good (22-12-1, first in the Pacific Division) and the same veteran guys are still doing the business (Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton lead team in scoring).

Dig a little deeper, though, and there have been some significant changes.

The Sharks have quietly embraced a youth movement this season, though it might not remain quiet for long. Rookies Timo Meier, 20, and Kevin Labanc, 21, have both made significant impacts on the lineup.

Just ask Jumbo.

“[Labanc], just the ability to get in position to score – I think he’s a very, very smart hockey player. He wants to score every night, which is fun to see as an older player,” Thornton said, per CSN Bay Area. “Timo, just his speed stands out, and how strong he is.

“Both guys are playing huge roles on our team right now.”

The Sharks will go for their ninth win in 10 games tonight when they host Philly, and both Labanc and Meier will play key parts. Despite appearing in just 22 games this year and only averaging 13:03 TOI, Labanc sits fifth on the team in goals, with six — the same kind of sniping prowess he displayed with the AHL Barracuda.

He’s now on the club’s second line, centered by Logan Couture, and is on the Sharks’ second power-play unit as well.

Meier, the ninth overall pick in 2015, has an even smaller body of work, with just five games played thus far. Still, he’s been impressive — scoring in his NHL debut — and head coach Peter DeBoer suggested a bigger role could be in the cards.

“He’s looking dangerous out there,” DeBoer said. “I think he’s knocking on the door to do some real good things here.”

Labanc and Meier couldn’t have emerged at a better time. Mikkel Boedker, one of GM Doug Wilson’s biggest acquisitions in free agency, has been a disappointment and veteran winger Joel Ward has really struggled, with just two goals through 33 games.

Last year, Ward found the back of the net 21 times, the second-highest total of his career.

The drama continues: Isles waive Halak

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In the wake of last night’s contentious loss to Minnesota, the Islanders have placed veteran netminder Jaroslav Halak on waivers.

The move comes after Halak was hooked following four goals on 24 shots, and taken to task by head coach Jack Capuano for the poor effort.

“Jaro wasn’t sharp at all,” Capuano said, per Newsday. “Some soft goals to start, and then we had to battle our way back in.

“We needed a better effort from Jaro, quite honestly.”

Today’s move could mark the end of what’s been a tumultuous calendar year for Halak. Signed to a four-year, $18 million contract in 2014, he started out as the club’s unquestioned No. 1 netminder, but lost his stranglehold on that position with a variety of injuries, including one in March that sidelined him for the regular season and all of New York’s playoff run.

Thomas Greiss took over No. 1 duties and fared well, but it was Halak who bested Greiss for the Team Europe starting gig at the World Cup of Hockey. Given how well Halak played at the tournament, there was optimism for him to reclaim the starting gig in Brooklyn, and run with it.

Didn’t happen, though.

Never a fan of the club’s three-goalie system — J-F Berube was also in the mix — Halak split duties through the first three months of this season and posted mediocre numbers: 6-8-5 record, 3.23 GAA and a .904 save percentage.

In late October, Halak’s agent — Octagon Hockey’s Allan Walsh — took to Twitter to express his client’s frustration with the three-goalie setup. Not long after, the Isles reportedly explored trading Halak, but found no takers.

Halak has a solid enough body of work to warrant a waiver claim, but the finances ($4.5 million per through 2018) will make it extremely difficult for a team to take on. Should he clear, the Isles could send him to their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, and receive a bit of financial relief in the process.

More importantly, though, it would finally solve the crowded crease conundrum.

More Isles goalie drama, as Capuano rips Halak

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It’s fitting that, at the end of a year filled with goalie drama, the New York Islanders are going out with a bang.

The Isles lost 6-4 to Minnesota on Thursday, a game in which J-F Berube came on in relief of Jaroslav Halak, who was hooked after allowing four goals on 24 shots.

Afterward, Isles head coach Jack Capuano minced no words about Halak’s performance.

“It’s a tough loss,” Capuano said, per Newsday. “It’s too bad. Jaro wasn’t sharp at all. Some soft goals to start, and then we had to battle our way back in.

“We needed a better effort from Jaro, quite honestly. Four goals on 24 shots isn’t going to get it done.”

It’ll be interesting to hear what Halak has to say, whenever he decides to speak. Halak has previously been critical of the club’s three-goalie setup (Berube dressed ahead of Thomas Greiss for last night’s game) and, back in late October, his agent — Octagon Hockey’s Allan Walsh — took to Twitter to express those frustrations.

Not long after, the Isles reportedly explored trading Halak, but found no takers.

One has to wonder if Capuano’s remarks were just about last night’s effort. Halak hasn’t been good lately, allowing at least three goals in four of his last five starts. All told he’s allowed 19 goals on his last 172 shots faced, for a sub-par .890 save percentage.