Mike Halford

Thomas Greiss

Goalie nods: Surging Greiss makes third straight start in place of injured Halak

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Thomas Greiss will look for his second straight victory tonight when the Isles take on the Sabres in Buffalo.

Greiss, currently holding down the Islanders’ starting job with Jaroslav Halak out injured, will make his third straight start — in his first, a 3-1 loss to Toronto, he stopped 35 of 37 shots for a .946 save percentage.

In his second, a 6-3 win over those same Maple Leafs, he stopped 30 of 33 shots for his 10th win of the campaign.

Overall, Greiss has been one of the NHL’s best backups this year, and a savvy offseason signing by New York GM Garth Snow.

The 29-year-old is 10-5-2 with a 2.09 GAA and .932 save percentage, and has given the Isles the kind of high-end backup goaltending the club hasn’t had in quite some time.

For the Sabres, Linus Ullmark will get the start in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Matt Murray, who’s started four of Pittsburgh’s last five games, will get the night off in Detroit as Jeff Zatkoff goes in goal. The Wings will counter with Petr Mrazek ahead of the struggling Jimmy Howard.

— Battle of the backups in Carolina: Philipp Grubauer for Washington, Eddie Lack for the ‘Canes.

— Marquee matchup in St. Louis as Devan Dubnyk and the Wild face Jake Allen and the Blues.

Semyon Varlamov will start yet again for the Avs tonight in Colorado. The visiting Blackhawks have yet to name a starter.

Antti Niemi, who came on in relief of Kari Lehtonen in Dallas’ ugly loss to Columbus, will start against Nashville. The Preds are expected to go with Pekka Rinne.

Karri Ramo starts his eighth straight for Calgary. The Kings look like they’ll be starting Jonathan Quick.

— After shutting out the Flames in his last start, John Gibson goes again as the Ducks complete their Alberta tour in Edmonton. Cam Talbot starts for the Oilers.

Connor Hellebuyck, coming off a 33-save win over the Red Wings, starts for Winnipeg in Arizona. The Coyotes are going with Louis Domingue, who has struggled recently (but so too has their other option, Anders Lindback).

WATCH LIVE: Habs take on Bruins in Winter Classic alumni game

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 31:  A Winter Classic puck is photographed perched on the dasher boards during the Montreal Canadiens practice at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Tomorrow, Montreal and Boston will square off in the NHL’s annual New Year’s Day outdoor extravaganza.

But today, the legends take their turn.

The 2016 Winter Classic alumni game goes at 3:30 p.m. ET. You can watch on NBCSN, or watch online using NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH NOW

Today’s game will feature five Hall of Famers: Cam Neely, Brian Leetch and Ray Bourque for the Bruins; Larry Robinson and Steve Shutt for the Canadiens.

There are also some legends on each respective coaching staff: Don Cherry, Derek Sanderson, Yvan Cournoyer and Guy Lafleur, to name a few.

 

 

With Gallagher’s return, Habs hope Winter Classic gets ‘dirty’

FOXBOROUGH — There was one word Montreal captain Max Pacioretty kept using on Thursday, to explain what Brendan Gallagher would bring to the Habs lineup after missing the last 17 games with a broken hand:

Dirty.

Five times, to be specific — that was the number of dirty references Pacioretty made on the eve of the Winter Classic, which will be Gallagher’s first game since getting knocked out of action on Nov. 22.

“I think getting dirty goals around the net is very important, but also five-on-five, we’ve been lacking that, I guess, that energy and that extra grit that it takes to score those dirty goals,” Pacioretty explained. “It’s a tight league where you don’t see too many fancy goals anymore.

“A lot of them are dirty, and a lot of them sometimes he doesn’t get rewarded with the goal, but he’s doing a lot of the dirty work down low that helps out his linemates and his teammates.”

There’s no denying Gallagher’s impact on the Montreal lineup and, specifically, his role on the club’s top line next to Pacioretty and center Tomas Plekanec.

The 23-year-old had nine goals and 19 points through his first 22 games of the season, providing the grit-‘n-sandpaper element which proved an ideal foil to Pacioretty and Plekanec’s skill and finesse. Gallagher also embraced the net-front role, allowing his linemates to get pucks through from the perimeter — like on this goal, scored against the Isles in early November:

And even though he’s relatively young — this is just his fourth year in the league — Gallagher has a defined leadership role on the team, serving as one of the club’s four alternate captains.

So needless to say, he’s a big part of what Montreal does. And it’s probably not a coincidence the club went 5-11-1 in his absence, falling out of top spot in the Atlantic Division.

The Habs are excited that things are about to get dirtier, starting Friday.

“I think tomorrow’s probably a game that’s probably perfect for him to come back to,” P.K. Subban said. “It’s on a big stage, but this type of game, knowing the ice may not be in the best condition and being a chippy game, it’s right up his alley.”

‘He’s an unbelievable teammate’ — B’s back Marchand after fourth suspension in four years

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FOXBOROUGH — Brad Marchand knows his actions cost his team.

But if his teammates had any qualms with his actions, they weren’t saying.

The Bruins were consistent in their message following their pre-Winter Classic practice on Thursday, explaining that  — while losing Marchand to suspension was “disappointing” — his latest transgression, a three-game ban for clipping Mark Borowiecki, hasn’t changed their opinions.

“He’s an unbelievable teammate,” Torey Krug said. “His teammates love him. All of us in here know that he wishes he could go out and battle tomorrow.

“It’s a tough loss for us.”

The Marchand-related queries were posed to the Bruins given ramifications of his latest offense:

— Boston was already pretty shorthanded up front, having lost both David Krejci and Joonas Kemppainen prior to Marchand’s suspension.

— Marchand also leads the team in goals, with 15.

— With a third forward out, the club was forced to recall Alexander Khokhlachev from AHL Providence.

— That means Colin Miller (who has 12 points in 28 games this year, and averaged nearly 16 minutes per night) had to be demoted, and won’t get to play in the Classic.

“It’s disappointing,” Landon Ferraro explained. “You want [guys like Marchand] in your lineup. He makes us better, no doubt.”

Clearly, no Bruin would “go there” in terms of discussing Marchand’s disciplinary and maturity issues, or how they affect the team. Standard party lines were issued.

But the Marchand situation was still hard to ignore, especially since it’s the latest in a pattern of behavior.

The suspension for clipping Borowiecki was Marchand’s third in the last three years and fourth of his career. There was also a pair of fines: $2,500 for slew-footing Matt Niskanen in 2011, and $5K for roughing Gabriel Landeskog this year.

There was also the incident in Vancouver in 2013, when he taunted the Canucks by pretending to raise the Stanley Cup and kissing his ring finger. Those antics drew the ire of head coach Claude Julien, who said “sometimes [Marchand’s] emotions get the better of him.”

On Thursday, Julien was asked about how disappointing it was to not have Marchand available for selection tomorrow.

“We need to just play the way we have through all these situations, and that’s all we can do right now,” he said. “As a coach, I don’t bog myself down with these things and I just move forward with what I’ve got.”

Related: Marchand ‘truly sorry’ for hit and suspension, but says it ‘differs from past instances’

Marchand ‘truly sorry’ for hit and suspension, but says it ‘differs from past instances’

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FOXBOROUGH — A contrite Brad Marchand met with the media head of Boston’s Winter Classic practice on Thursday, attempting to make amends for the hit he put on Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki — and his subsequent three-game suspension.

“I just want to acknowledge the situation I’ve put my team in for being undisciplined, and affecting the game for them,” Marchand said, in what appeared to be a prepared statement. “Taking away the excitement from the fans, being a part of this rivalry, taking that away from them. Also, for affecting this game for myself and putting myself in a situation to not be part of this.

“I want to apologize. I truly am sorry to everyone about this situation and it was not my intent to make a hit or try and injure anyone on that play.”

Marchand was given a three-game ban for clipping, the same infraction that earned him a five-game suspension in 2012, when he low-bridged Canucks defenseman Sami Salo.

While he said missing the Winter Classic would be disappointing, the 27-year-old also said he respected the league’s decision.

Of course, he also insisted he wasn’t trying to injure Borowiecki on this particular play, and alluded to it not being in the same vein as the Salo hit.

“I didn’t see how it all unfolded afterwards, and the extent of the hit,” Marchand said, when asked how this suspension fit into his stated desire to be more disciplined and mature this season. “The intent was not to make a hit on that play.

“It differs from past instances. I still don’t think this is changing how I’ve approached this season.”

Borowiecki disagreed.

After Marchand spoke, Boston GM Don Sweeney explained that addressing the media was Marchand’s idea, saying it was a sign of the player’s growing maturity.

“I think it speaks a lot for Brad to want to be out in front of this today,” Sweeney said. “He knows the impact that this has had on the team, and on the game itself, and the fans. He asked if he could address it [before] his teammates were going out to practice and getting ready for the game. I think it speaks to the question about maturity. It says a lot to where Brad is, and the impact he has on our lineup.

“We respect Player Safety’s decision on the play. It’s unfortunate for Brad and our team, but we’ll leave it at that.”

With Marchand unavailable — now shelved with fellow forwards David Krejci and Joonas Kemppainen — Sweeney announced Boston had sent defenseman Colin Miller to AHL Providence, and called up forward Alexander Khokhlachev.