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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Goalie nods: Flames start Elliott for third time in four games

Just when it looked like Chad Johnson grabbed the No. 1 gig in Calgary, Brian Elliott made his move.

Elliott, who has won each of his last two starts while posting a .927 save percentage, will get his third nod in the last four games as the Flames take on the Avs in Colorado tonight. Elliott’s start comes with Johnson having lost each of his last three starts — allowing 12 goals on just 84 shots, an .857 save percentage.

Interesting times, to say the least.

We’ve been following this goalie battle throughout the season, and for good reason. The Flames acquired Elliott in the hopes he’d solidify their longstanding goalie issues, and came into the campaign as the unquestioned No. 1 (what’s more, he and the club were already in contract extension talks).

The veteran netminder struggled in his first few months with the Flames, though there was always the belief he’d have another crack at the starting gig after Johnson took it over. For as good as Johnson’s been, he’s 30 years old and never had sustained success as a No. 1.

Now could be Elliott’s shot.

Elsewhere…

Marc-Andre Fleury gets another crack at the Devils after a 23-save win against them on Friday. He’ll be up against Cory Schneider, who was on the losing end of the aforementioned tilt.

— The Caps will go right back to Braden Holtby, after he posted a 23-save shutout of the Lightning prior to the break. The Isles will go with Jaroslav Halak.

Antti Raanta gets another start for the Rangers, though this one is due to Henrik Lundqvist falling ill with the flu. Raanta will go up against Mike Condon, who starts for the visiting Sens.

— Great matchup in Columbus, as the Blue Jackets and Sergei Bobrovsky host Tuukka Rask and the Bruins.

— It’s Robin Lehner versus Petr Mrazek as the Sabres take on the Red Wings in Detroit.

— The red-hot Devan Dubnyk, who is 8-0-1 with a 1.41 GAA and .951 save percentage in December, looks to pad those stats with a start in Nashville. The Preds will counter with Pekka Rinne, who hasn’t had as much success this month (.867 save percentage).

Corey Crawford will make his second start since returning from an appendectomy, as the ‘Hawks host the Jets. Winnipeg will go with Connor Hellebuyck.

— No surprises in Arizona, as the Coyotes will continue to ride veteran Mike Smith. For the visiting Stars, Kari Lehtonen looks to make another start after a 29-save win over the Kings last Friday.

— Another good matchup in Anaheim, as Martin Jones and the Sharks take on John Gibson and the Ducks.

Kings still don’t have timetable for Toffoli’s return

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L.A.’s already dealt with lengthy injuries this year — Brayden McNabb, Marian Gaborik and, most notably, Jonathan Quick — and could soon add another to the list in Tyler Toffoli.

Toffoli, currently sidelined with a lower-body injury, hasn’t played since Dec. 20 and hasn’t taken a team-related skate since Dec. 22. He’s already missed two games, won’t travel for an upcoming two-game trip (Vancouver on Dec. 28, Edmonton Dec. 29) and all signs point to him being out until early January.

“We’ll get him looked at again early after the new year,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said, per LA Kings Insider. “So it’ll be at least a week before we even look at him again.”

Toffoli had eight goals and 20 points at the time of his injury, sitting second on the team in scoring behind Jeff Carter. He is, quite obviously, a big part of the L.A. offense — in addition to the point total, he leads the team with a plus-14 rating, and averages nearly 18 minutes per night.

The Kings can ill afford to lose Toffoli for an extended period of time. This is a team that sits 20th in the NHL in goals per game, and a large chunk of that total is directly due to Toffoli and Carter. The pair have combined for 27 of L.A.’s 86 goals this season, which is 31 percent of the scoring.

 

Price, Subban, Crosby, McDavid leading races for All-Star Game captaincies

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There are just a handful of voting days left for the 2017 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles but, if the latest results hold true, there will be some major star power among the four divisional captains.

The top vote-getter in the Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan and Pacific will wear the “C” for the league’s second consecutive 3-on-3 ASG tourney. Here’s how things stack up as of Tuesday:

Atlantic
1. Carey Price, Montreal
2. Jaromir Jagr, Florida
3. Shea Weber, Montreal
4. Patrice Bergeron, Boston
5. Jack Eichel, Buffalo

Central
1. P.K. Subban, Nashville
2. Patrick Kane, Chicago
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
4. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg
5. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis

Metropolitan
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
3. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh
4. Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia
5. John Tavares, NY Islanders

Pacific
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton
2. Brent Burns, San Jose
3. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary
4. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
5. Joe Thornton, San Jose

Last year, in Nashville, John Scott captained the Pacific Division to victory over the Jaromir Jagr-led Atlantic in the tournament final. John Tavares captained the Metro, while Patrick Kane wore the “C” for the Central.

Fans have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 2 to cast their votes for this year’s captains.

McLellan likes Oilers defense, but ‘it’s Christmas, and we all have wish lists’

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Through 36 games, the Oilers have shown well — 42 points, one point back of San Jose for first place in the Pacific Division — and much of that has to do with the club’s improved defense.

While hardly an awe-inspiring unit, it is better than the group of a year ago. GM Peter Chiarelli’s two major additions — Adam Larsson and Kris Russell — have been polarizing figures at times, but have solidified themselves as top-four, 20-minute-per-night guys, along with Oscar Klefbom and the club’s “No. 1” defenseman, Andrej Sekera.

All that said, head coach Todd McLellan certainly wouldn’t mind an upgrade.

“It’s Christmas and we all have wish lists,” said McLellan, per the Edmonton Journal. “We’re coaches and we’re never happy but when you talk of those type of players … say a power play quarterback, somebody who puts up points, we don’t have that.”

The Oilers are defending by committee this season, as Sekera is really a No. 1 in name only. Sure, he’s the team leader in ice time, at 21:44 a night, but doesn’t log anywhere hear the heavy workloads of Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Kris Letang, Ryan Suter or Dustin Byfuglien.

And though Sekera scores reasonably well (17 points, putting him top-30 among NHL blueliners), he doesn’t produce at a clip that compensates for the remainder of the unit. Edmonton’s defense hasn’t done much in terms of points this year — Russell only has five , Larsson just six — which is probably why an offensive d-man is high on McLellan’s shopping list.

The club also has a hole to fill on its blueline following Darnell Nurse‘s ankle surgery, which projects to sideline him until mid-March. 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 while racking up 60 hits, which was second among all Oilers d-men.

Add it all up, and you’ve got a team that sure sounds like it’s in the market for upgrades Lest we forget Chiarelli’s history in Boston of picking up defensemen at the deadline: Andrej Meszaros in ’14, Wade Redden in ’13, Greg Zanon/Mike Mottau in ’12 and Tomas Kaberle in ’11.

Throw in the desperation factor — the Oilers are in line for playoffs, a place they haven’t been in 10 years — and perhaps McLellan will get a late Christmas present.

‘Hawks put Hossa on IR, hopeful he’s back for Winter Classic

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The injury that knocked Marian Hossa out of Chicago’s loss to Ottawa last Tuesday will sideline him for a few more games.

Per the Sun-Times, Hossa has been placed on IR with an upper-body injury. Having already missed most of the aforementioned Sens game and all of Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Colorado, it now looks like the veteran winger will miss three more — tonight’s game against Winnipeg, then road dates in Nashville on Dec. 29, and Carolina on Dec. 30.

The hope, it would seem, is that Hossa will recover in time to face the Blues at Busch Stadium on Jan. 2, for the 2017 Winter Classic.

Chicago certainly needs the 37-year-old in the lineup. Hossa leads the club in goals this year, with 16, and is averaging a healthy 17:17 TOI per night.

With Hossa out, the ‘Hawks look as though they’ll roll with a top line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. Jonathan Toews will center Ryan Hartman and Vince Hinostroza on line two, while Marcus Kruger will play between Dennis Rasmussen and Richard Panik on the third.

Four players — Andrew Desjarsins, Tanner Kero, Tyler Motte and Jordin Tootoo — are vying for spots on the fourth line.