Mike Halford

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 26:  Trevor van Riemsdyk #57 of the Chicago Blackhawks waits for a face-off against the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on October 26, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Ducks 1-0 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

‘Hawks praise TVR’s ‘mind for the game’

CHICAGO (AP) Trevor van Riemsdyk was a big surprise last season. He made the Chicago Blackhawks out of training camp, got hurt and then returned in time to help his team win the Stanley Cup.

For coach Joel Quenneville, what van Riemsdyk is doing so far this year just feels like an extension of a solid start to his NHL career.

“Getting him back here, playing in some important shifts and the minutes has been growing as well,” Quenneville said. “But I think his mind for the game is what we appreciate.”

The emergence of the 24-year-old van Riemsdyk is a big reason why Chicago is once again among the top teams in the Western Conference at the NHL’s Christmas break after a so-so start to the season.

The Blackhawks (20-12-4) had won three in a row and seven of nine before Tuesday’s 4-0 loss at league-leading Dallas. Van Riemsdyk had a rough night with a minus-three rating against the high-scoring Stars, but he leads Chicago with 72 blocked shots and is fifth on the team with an average ice time of 20 1/2 minutes.

“I think there is a lot more comfort there,” van Riemsdyk said. “You feel more confident in the things you’re doing. Obviously, it comes from just getting that experience. Just feeling more comfortable with who you’re playing with or getting that confidence from the coaching staff.”

Chicago’s defensive depth was a concern coming into the season after Johnny Oduya left in free agency for a $7.5 million, two-year deal with Dallas. Then Duncan Keith, a two-time Norris Trophy winner, had right knee surgery on Oct. 20.

Keith’s injury could have turned into a huge problem for the Blackhawks, who play in one of the league’s toughest divisions and could ill afford to lose much ground. But van Riemsdyk took on additional ice time in Keith’s absence, and Chicago went 5-4-1 without its star defenseman.

“When Duncs went down, it’s obviously tough to see,” van Riemsdyk said. “But yeah, there’s a few more minutes now to be had since he logged so many and I didn’t know if I was going to be the guy to play those, but I was looking forward to the chance if they did give it to me. Yeah, those games were great for the experience.”

Now he plays alongside Keith on the same defensive pairing.

“It’s awesome,” van Riemsdyk said. “He’s just a great defenseman. I think he pushes you in the right way and gets the best out of you.”

Van Riemsdyk joined Chicago in March 2014 after playing college hockey for New Hampshire. His older brother, James, a forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs, also played for the Wildcats, and his younger brother, Brendan, has committed to the program.

Trevor van Riemdsyk said their father, Frans, played hockey in high school, and then at the club level in college. The three brothers tried several different sports while growing up in New Jersey, but each of them took to hockey right away.

“Some pretty good genes in that family,” New Hampshire coach Dick Umile said.

James van Riemsdyk was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft and made his NHL debut with Philadelphia two years later. He has been a key confidante and sounding board for Trevor in his transition to the league.

“It’s huge. I think without him I don’t think I’d be anywhere near here,” Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “He just kind of shows you the way.”

His older brother was of particular help after Trevor had surgeries on his left knee and right wrist last season. James helped talk him through the process of coming back from the injuries, and Trevor returned to the ice for the last four games of the Stanley Cup final against Tampa Bay.

Van Riemsdyk gave Quenneville some valuable minutes against the Lightning, setting the stage for his progress this season.

“Positionally aware, got a good stick, anticipates both sides, both ways,” Quenneville said. “I like the fact that he wants the puck, definitely, but his positioning is probably what gets him into position to block shots, and a good stick.”

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    Coyotes sign Quebec League scoring sensation Garland

    BLAINVILLE-BOISBRIAND, QC - NOVEMBER 25:  Conor Garland #8 of the Moncton Wildcats reacts during the QMJHL game against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada at the Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau on November 25, 2015 in Blainville-Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada.  The Blainville-Boisbriand Armada defeated the Moncton Wildcats 6-5.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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    Arizona has signed Conor Garland, it’s fifth-round pick in 2015, to a three-year, entry-level contract.

    Garland, 19, has spent this year tearing apart the Quebec League. The Moncton forward has a staggering 21 goals and 80 points through just 33 games and is a whopping 22 points clear of the No. 2 scorer in the league, Sherbrook’s Guillaume Gauthier.

    (Yes you read that right. Garland has 80 points in 33 games.)

    A Massachusetts native, Garland is small — 5-foot-8, 163 pounds — but has an incredibly high skill level.

    Last season, he set Moncton’s franchise record with 129 points in 67 games, then added another 25 in 16 playoff games.

    Doughty ‘surprised’ by how bad Pacific Division’s been this year

    Drew Doughty
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    The Pacific is the NHL’s weakest division by nearly every measure, something that’s caught Drew Doughty off guard.

    “I’m a little surprised,” The Kings d-man said, per the Los Angeles Daily News. “Typically our division is one of the tougher ones. Right now, it doesn’t seem that way.”

    Doughty’s right. Heading into the Christmas break, the Pacific is the only division with just one 40-plus-point team — the Kings, who have 42 — and of the NHL’s bottom-10 teams, five come from the good ol’ Pacific.

    The Canucks, on 35 points, sit 21st overall. Arizona (34 points) is right behind at No. 22, while Calgary (also on 34 points) sits 23rd.

    Edmonton, with 32 points, is at No. 26 while Anaheim managed to climb out of the league basement on Tuesday night, securing one point in an OT loss to the Rangers.

    With that, the Ducks went into the break on 30 points — one ahead of last-place Columbus.

    Ugh.

    Of course, a few things have improved since earlier this month, when Brough wrote Five Fun Facts About The Terrible Pacific Division. The Flames have gotten better — they’re 8-2-0 in their last 10 — and actually managed to win some games in regulation (two in the last six days.)

    The Oilers, meanwhile, are 7-3-0 in their last 10 and, for the first time in a long time, head into the holiday break in the thick of a playoff race.

    And the positives don’t stop there.

    San Jose leads the NHL in road wins! Anaheim has the league’s best penalty kill! The Kings are second in goals allowed!

    So hey, maybe the Pacific Division isn’t so bad after all.

    (As long as you don’t look at the standings.)

    Video: Paul Maurice says Paul Maurice is in a bad mood

    After the Jets lost 4-1 in Calgary on Tuesday — their fifth loss in seven games — Paul Maurice looked like the head coach of a team that just needed to get away for a little while.

    Then he met with the assembled media, and confirmed it.

    In the third person!

    “We’ll deal with what we’re doing coming out of the break, but this team needs some rest,” Maurice said, per the Jets website. “The coach has been in a bad mood for a long time and…. we need some rest, some separation.”

    The Jets head into the Christmas break as one of the NHL’s biggest disappointments. After making the playoffs a year ago, they currently sit 24th overall with 32 points, eight back of Nashville for the final wild card in the Western Conference.

    Maurice is clearly frustrated.

    And that frustration might not be going anywhere.

    Coming out of the break, the Jets have a pair of tough home games — against Pittsburgh and Detroit — before heading out on a five-game road swing through Arizona, San Jose, Anaheim, Nashville and Dallas (the Jets are an ugly 6-12-1 away from home this year).

    The club is also dealing with the contract uncertainty of pending UFAs Dustin Byfuglien and the captain, Andrew Ladd.

    With the trade deadline drawing closer, those storylines will only intensify.

    Finally, there’s the issue of the club’s goaltending.

    While Ondrej Pavelec has been erratic during his time as the club’s No. 1, his lengthy absence with a knee injury has proven costly. Michael Hutchinson has one win in his last 12 outings while prized prospect Connnor Hellebuyck has struggled recently, posting just an .883 save percentage in his last five games.

    Bolland back from AHL stint, but now dealing with injury

    Ottawa Senators v Florida Panthers
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    Underachieving center Dave Bolland is back with the Panthers following his conditioning stint in the minors, but it’s unclear when he’ll actually be back in the lineup.

    More, from the Miami Herald:

    Bolland returned to the Panthers on Monday and his gear is back in the team locker room but he might not play right away.

    Bolland sustained some sort of injury while on assignment to Florida’s AHL team in Portland, Maine.

    General manager Dale Tallon would only say that Bolland is being evaluated for a “lower-body” injury.

    Bolland, 29, has been a major disappointment this season, and that disappointment’s been exacerbated by the fact that, at $5.5 million annually, he’s Florida’s highest-paid forward.

    Head coach Gerard Gallant’s made Bolland a healthy scratch on a number of occasions this season, but insisted he wasn’t trying to send the veteran center a message.

    Yet by sending him to the minors, the Panthers pretty much did exactly that.

    Bolland appeared in two games for Portland during his stint, registering one point. He last played on Saturday, in a 2-1 win over Bridgeport.