Mike Halford

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No more Circus Trips for Chicago

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One of the most well-known scheduling quirks in the NHL is no longer.

On Monday, the Tribune reported that Chicago’s annual Circus Trip — a two-week sojourn in which the ‘Hawks vacate the United Center for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus — will be no longer after this season.

Gone too is the annual two-week break the club takes in February, when Disney on Ice comes to town.

More:

The Circus and Ice Show trips have been a staple for the teams for decades and date back to when they occupied the Chicago Stadium. But when the present contracts expired, changes were made.

“The reason we’re doing this is two-fold,” Terry Savarise, Senior Vice President of Operations for the United Center, said Monday. “One is that in future years the Bulls and the Blackhawks no longer have to endure two two-week road trips and a subset of that is that those two two-week road trips had resulted in a compression of our home-game schedules which usually ended up having too many home games for fans in a short period of time.

“There were times when you’d have four home games in a one-week period, which fans didn’t like.”

This year’s Circus Trip begins on Tuesday, when the ‘Hawks take on the Jets in Winnipeg.

From there, it looks like this:

circus

As mentioned above, Chicago also spends considerable time away from the United Center in February.

Things actually kick off on Jan. 31, with a date in San Jose — from there, the ‘Hawks go to Arizona, Dallas, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Edmonton before a quick stop at home for a rematch against the Oilers.

After that, the ‘Hawks are back out on the road again for games in Buffalo and Minnesota.

After just three games, Nakladal cut loose by ‘Canes

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Carolina GM Ron Francis took a flier on Jakub Nakladal in early October, hoping that Nakladal’s efforts with the Czechs at the World Cup would translate into the regular season.

They didn’t.

On Monday, the ‘Canes announced they’ve terminated Nakladal’s contract, after he went scoreless in just three appearances for the club — the last one a shootout loss to New Jersey on Nov. 8.

The 28-year-old spent last season in Calgary — his first NHL campaign after years in the Czech League and KHL — but wasn’t resigned by the Flames, making him an unrestricted free agent. A contract failed to materialize during the summer, but interest rose after Nakladal appeared in all three games at the World Cup, acquitting himself reasonably well.

(His best game came in the Czech Republic’s group finale against the U.S., when he went plus-2 with over 20 minutes of ice time and three shots on goal.)

Nakladal was part of a Carolina defense that’s come under fire this season. He, along with waiver claim Klas Dahlbeck, were supposed to round out the bottom pairing and provide some depth, but that plan never came to fruition.

 

Blues ‘need to get that competitive nature back’ after ugly road swing

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One would think Ken Hitchcock would be an unhappy man on Monday, given he was on the heels of a two-game losing streak in which his club surrendered a whopping 11 goals.

But instead, Hitch was happy.

Calling it the best practice the Blues have had in nearly two years, Hitchcock praised his team’s “focus, the energy, the communication, disposition, compete level,” just two days after getting drilled 8-4 in Columbus.

Captain Alex Pietrangelo said the response was sorely needed.

“That’s the reality of the situation,” he said, per the Post-Dispatch. “I thought we went out there today, we battled each other and we played each other honest. We need to get that competitive nature back.”

November has been a month to forget for the Blues. They’ve been crushed on three separate occasions — 5-0 against the Rangers, 6-2 against the Stars and the Blue Jackets beating, after which Kevin Shattenkirk said the Blues were “dazed” by the situation.

Needless to say, there have been issues.

Health-wise, the club has been thinned out on defense due to injuries to Joel Edmundson and Robert Bortuzzo.

The Blues also haven’t gotten enough offense from key forwards like Jori Lehtera, Patrik Berglund and Jaden Schwartz — a trio that’s only combined for five goals and 12 points thus far.

The schedule hasn’t done a ton of favors, either. St. Louis has played seven games in 12 nights in November, with a couple of travel heavy two-game sets.

Thankfully for them, the last issue will be rectified soon. Starting tomorrow against Buffalo, the Blues will begin a stretch that sees them play eight of their next 10 at Scottrade, which will be a great opportunity to make up ground in the Central.

Goalie nods: After shouldering blame last game, Halak back in for Isles

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Just one game on the ledger tonight, but there’s still a goalie storyline to follow — in Brooklyn, the Isles will continue to ride Jaroslav Halak when they host the Bolts at Barclays.

Halak has received almost all the minutes since Thomas Greiss was on the hook for a 6-1 loss to Tampa Bay back on Nov. 1.

Since then, Greiss has only made one appearance — in relief of Halak in a 4-1 loss to the Lightning on Nov. 10 — in what’s become another twist in New York’s ongoing goalie saga.

Halak’s most recent outing came on Saturday, in which he made 40 saves in a 3-2 OT loss in Florida. On paper, it looked like a strong effort — especially since the Isles were out-shot 43-21 — but, afterward, the veteran ‘tender stepped up and took blame for Jonathan Marchessault‘s game-tying goal with 13.6 seconds left.

“It shouldn’t go in. That’s on me,” Halak said, per Newsday. “Obviously it was a better game, but the second goal really bugs me. I can’t let it happen.”

These are certainly tough times for the Isles. The club has been thinned out on defense, with Ryan Pulock and Dennis Seidenberg on IR, and Travis Hamonic making an early return from a suspected broken thumb.

They’ve also been collectively outscored 10-2 by Tampa Bay this season, and the head-to-head series is only two games deep. Tonight’s game will be the third and final meeting of the year.

For the Bolts, Andrei Vaslievskiy gets the start. His last outing came in the aforementioned Nov. 10 win over the Isles, in which he made 31 saves on 32 shots.

Hamburglar helper? Sens reportedly testing market for Hammond

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Ottawa’s goaltending situation has been in a state of flux this year, and could now get… fluxier?

(It’s a perfectly cromulent word.)

Per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Sens are reportedly testing the market on Andrew Hammond, this after acquiring Mike Condon via trade in the wake of Craig Anderson‘s wife’s cancer diagnosis.

The report would suggest that Condon’s leapfrogged Hammond for the No. 2 gig. In two starts, Condon has stopped 58 of 59 shots and secured a pair of victories, including one shutout.

Hammond, 28, is best known for his magical run at the tail end of the ’14-15 campaign, during which he went 20-1-2 with a .941 save percentage to propel the Sens into the playoffs.

He finished seventh in Vezina voting that season, and even scored a handful of Hart Trophy votes.

Since then, Hammond has struggled to rediscover similar form. He went 7-11-4 last season with a .914 save percentage — making just 21 starts — and has really struggled in his two starts this year, sitting with a ghastly .793 save percentage and 4.50 GAA.

Hammond does have a history of success, though, and is on a reasonably cheap contract ($1.35M cap hit through 2018). And given the current goaltending landscape, he could be an option.

Dallas’ much-maligned duo of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen continues to struggle, and the Kings are back to the Peter BudajJack Campbell combo after Jeff Zatkoff got hurt on Friday night (playing against the Sens, curiously enough.)