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: Price, Holtby square off in battle of reigning Vezina winners

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Two years ago, Carey Price captured the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder.

Last year, Braden Holtby won the award.

As such, the obvious narrative has been set for tonight’s Caps-Habs game from the Bell Centre in Montreal — it promises to be a quality netminding affair, as two of the league’s best go head-to-head.

Holtby is coming off a terrific week, in which he was named the NHL’s third star. He posted back-to-back shutouts against the Blue Jackets and Senators, stopping all 59 shots faced, and now boasts an impressive .931 save percentage on the year.

Price hasn’t been to shabby lately either.

The ’15 Hart Trophy winner has emerged victorious in his first two starts of January, allowing just four goals on 59 shots. That’s pushed his save percentage to .930 on the year — just behind Holtby for fifth among NHL netminders.

Elsewhere…

Roberto Luongo returns from a brief injury absence as the Panthers take on the Devils in New Jersey. He’ll be up against his old Canucks teammate, Cory Schneider.

— After a very strong outing against Vancouver on Saturday (28 saves on 29 shots, for the win), Chad Johnson gets a second straight start for the Flames in Winnipeg. He’ll be up against Connor Hellebuyck, who allowed four goals on 36 shots in a loss to Buffalo on Saturday.

Kari Lehtonen, yanked in a loss to St. Louis over the weekend, appears to be back in goal when the Stars take on the Kings. No word yet on a Los Angeles starter.

More accolades for Grabner, who’s been a great find for the Rangers

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After scoring five goals in three games — two of the game-winning variety — speedy Rangers forward Michael Grabner was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday.

But his impressive effort goes well beyond the last seven days.

One of the best signings of last summer — inked on the opening day of free agency to a two-year, $3.8 million deal — Grabner has provided immense value for a Rangers team that didn’t have a ton of cap flexibility. His 19 goals on the year have him tied for sixth in the league and he’s on pace for 36, which would break his previous career high.

It’s a neat development, to say the least. Sure, Grabner has a history of sniping — he scored 34 for the Isles back in ’10-11 — but, recently, he was known for his inability to find the back of the net more than anything else.

(To wit: Grabner has his 18 goals through 41 games this year. Over the last two years, he played 114… and scored 17.)

This year, the 29-year-old is playing with a boatload of confidence. And it shows.

“I think the last couple of years, even a few weeks ago when I was missing some chances, it gets into your head a bit,” Grabner said following Saturday’s 5-4 comeback win over the Blue Jackets, per the Daily News. “Last two games I’ve just been a little freer in my head and not thinking too much about it out there.”

Rangers GM Jeff Gorton deserves credit for taking a calculated gamble. There were reasons to think New York would be a good fit — the club needed more speed, which Grabner has in droves, and there was some history with bench boss Alain Vigneault, who coached the Austrian in Vancouver a few years back.

But nobody predicted the Blueshirts would get this kind of production.

It’s a big reason why New York’s heading into its “bye week” in such a favorable position. The Rangers are right near the top of the wildly competitive Metropolitan Division, just three points back of first-place Columbus, and are on pace for an 111-point campaign. That would be a 10-point improvement on last season, no small feat for a club many felt was trending in the wrong direction at the end of last year.

‘Canes waive Nestrasil

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After claiming Ty Rattie from the Blues and getting Elias Lindholm back from injury, Carolina has placed forward Andrej Nestrasil on waivers.

From the club:

Nestrasil has logged 17 goals and 31 assists (48 points) in 137 NHL games from 2014-17. Carolina claimed Nestrasil on waivers from Detroit on Nov. 20, 2014, and he has since played in 114 games with the Hurricanes over parts of three seasons.

Nestrasil has recorded five points (1g, 4a) in 18 games this season, but has played just twice since Dec. 10 and has been a healthy scratch in 22 games.

After being picked up from Detroit, Nestrasil was a fairly good contributor for the ‘Canes. He scored seven goals and 18 points in 41 games while averaging over 14 minutes per night in his first campaign, which led to Carolina signing him to a two-year, $1.85 million extension.

The 25-year-old had his ’15-16 season cut short due to a fractured vertebrae, but still managed to post career highs in goals (nine) and points (23). As mentioned above, he was in and out of the lineup this year as Carolina had more options at forward, most notably with additions like Rattie, Lee Stempniak, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho.

Edmonton makes decision with Puljujarvi — he’s off to the minors

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Last week, Brough wrote how the Oilers needed to make a decision about Jesse Puljujarvi‘s playing future.

Today, they made it.

The Oilers have sent Puljujarvi, the No. 4 overall pick at last year’s draft, to their American League affiliate in Bakersfield. The decision comes after the 18-year-old’s ice time bottomed out in Thursday’s win over Boston — the Finnish winger played a team-low 3:27 against the B’s, his second-lowest total of the year (and to be fair, his lowest total, 3:07 against the Isles, was the result of an injury.)

Things have been trending in this direction for a while. Puljujarvi’s play has been erratic, and his ice time has decreased as a result — prior to the Boston game, he logged just 9:14 of ice time in a 3-1 loss to Columbus.

Puljujarvi finished that game with no shots and a team-worst Corsi of 23 percent at even strength. He also took a holding penalty in the first period, which the Blue Jackets turned into a power-play goal.

The decision to send him to Bakersfield has been hanging around for quite some time. Even before this latest stretch, Puljujarvi clearly hadn’t earned the trust of head coach Todd McLellan, who’d made him a healthy scratch on a few occasions.

Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli had also previously acknowledged a stint in the minors could be best for Puljujarvi’s growth as a player.

“This is an age-old dilemma,” said Chiarelli. “You have to balance the development at playing eight minutes (in the NHL) versus 15 minutes or 20 minutes somewhere else.”

‘I wasn’t fired because of analytics,’ says Gallant

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Many wanted to shoehorn the Panthers firing Gerard Gallant into the longer, seemingly endless debate pitting new-school analytic types against old-school hockey guys.

But this wasn’t that.

In November, GM and current head coach Tom Rowe said it was more about a “philosophical divide” that went well beyond numbers.

In speaking with ESPN over the weekend, Gallant reiterated much of the same.

“I wasn’t fired because of analytics,” Gallant said. “I loved coaching the Florida Panthers and I’m a stubborn guy at times, maybe I said a little too much, maybe I gave my opinion a little bit too much.

“Maybe when they asked for my opinion, I have an honest opinion and sometimes it doesn’t help you. Maybe it wasn’t always what they wanted to hear.”

That last bit is probably the most important. Because Gallant certainly wasn’t afraid to express himself.

Last summer, not long after being named a Jack Adams finalist as coach of the year, he responded to Florida’s organizational overhaul by saying he was “definitely a little bit surprised” by all the changes made.

He also seemed consistently at odds with the club’s diminishing size and toughness element. That came to a head a week prior to his firing, when he sounded off after a game in which the Flyers took liberties with a few different Panthers skaters.

From the Sun-Sentinel:

The Panthers had no suitable enforcer to respond Tuesday when Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds got feisty or when Radko Gudas flattened Vincent Trocheck with a headshot. Gallant said he regretted not having Thornton available.

“You always think that when things happen to your team. It’s frustrating to see that happen, especially in your own building,” Gallant said. “The Simmonds situation and then the Gudas hit on Trocheck, you’d like a response on that.

“But when you don’t have personnel to put out there for that it shows.”

Rowe referenced this in explaining why Gallant was let go.

“We wanted to develop a team and build a team that was fast, that moved the puck quickly, attack the offensive net and pressure the puck in all three zones,” he said. “Gerard and I talked about it, he said he wanted to get a little more size.

“And we decided to go in a different direction.”