Mike Halford

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Fleury ‘seems to stop the hard ones and maybe let in the easy ones,’ says Hartnell

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To hear Scott Hartnell explain it, Columbus doesn’t see much of a difference between facing Matt Murray or Marc-Andre Fleury.

“Potato, Po-tah-to, both Murray and Fleury are good,” Hartnell said, per the Blue Jackets website. “(The change) doesn’t cause any havoc for us. Everyone on this team has faced Fleury a bunch of times. He’s won Stanley Cups.

“He seems to stop the hard ones and maybe let in the easy ones.”

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One would assume Hartnell’s comments are (partially) in reference to the 2012 Penguins-Flyers series, in which Hartnell was playing for Philly. Fleury was ventilated for 26 goals on 131 shots over six games, finishing with an ugly .834 save percentage.

But that was then. This is now.

Fleury was thrust into the starting role just prior to Wednesday’s series opener, after Murray went down during warmup with a lower-body injury. It’s believed Murray re-aggravated a groin injury suffered late in the regular season, and it’s serious enough to keep him out of the lineup entirely — Fleury will start tonight’s Game 2, with AHL recall Tristan Jarry serving as the backup.

Fleury was excellent in Game 1, stopping 31 of 32 shots, including all 16 faced in a very busy opening period. Matt Calvert ended his shutout bid with a marker midway through the final frame.

Columbus said the goal for tonight’s tilt is to make life even busier for Fleury.

“We got to focus on getting more pucks to the net,” Brandon Dubinsky said. “We need to get more pucks to the blues and make it hard on Fleury by trying to generate some rebounds.”

As for Hartnell — well, this isn’t the first time he’s had a quip about the Penguins. Prior to the series starting, he was asked if Pittsburgh had matured over the last few years.

“Maybe Sid [Crosby],” Hartnell replied, per the Post-Gazette. “He’s not whining all the time.”

Puck drop tonight is at 7 p.m. from PPG Paints. You can catch the game on NHL Network, or stream it here.

Hitch wants Seguin thinking, playing like a No. 1 center

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Introductory pressers are supposed to be about photo ops, congratulations and generic quotes. Those at the podium can easily deflect talk of specifics with “we’re still in an evaluation period,” and “it’s early, but we’ll look into it.”

But that’s just not Ken Hitchcock’s style.

Shortly after being introduced as Dallas’ new head coach on Thursday — his second tour of duty in Texas — Hitchcock jumped straight into specific improvements he wanted to make with the hockey club.

Including a big one for Tyler Seguin.

“I’ve got to get Tyler to start thinking like a [No. 1 center],'” Hitchcock said, per the Morning-News. “That means he has to be out there in critical spaces all of the time. He has to kill penalties, he has to play against the other team’s top players.

“He has to be out there at the start of games, he has to be out there at the end of games. That’s what a ‘1’ does.”

Seguin spent considerable time this season at right wing. Former head coach Lindy Ruff opted to give Cody Eakin significant minutes a top-line center — largely because of Eakin’s defensive prowess — forcing Seguin to the outside as a result.

Offensively speaking, there’s never been any question about Seguin’s capabilities down the middle. He’s had at least 40 assists in each of his four years in Dallas, but there have been concerns about his defensive side of the game. And Hitch’s comment about penalty killing is quite interesting, because Seguin played a grand total of 2:09 shorthanded this season.

You read that right. He didn’t average 2:09. He killed penalties for two minutes and nine seconds, total, over 82 games.

So this proposed transformation will be major one. How does Seguin feel about the challenge?

“I’m giddy,” he said. “Since I’ve come to Dallas, I’ve wanted to be a No. 1 centerman. I know he’s going to be hard on me, but I want to make this work.”

Report: Vancouver interested in ex-Canuck Lowry for coaching staff

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Dave Lowry, the veteran NHLer that’s spent the last five years in WHL Victoria, could be on his way back to the bigs.

Per Chek News and Victoria Sports News, Lowry has been in talks with the Vancouver Canucks about joining the club in a coaching capacity. Since it’s believed AHL Utica bench boss Travis Green is the leading candidate to replace the recently dismissed Willie Desjardins, there are rumblings Lowry could come aboard as Green’s assistant, or possibly his replacement with the Comets.

(It’s worth noting that, in addition to firing Desjardins, the Canucks also cut ties with veteran assistants Perry Pearn and Doug Lidster.)

Lowry has ties Vancouver. He was drafted by the Canucks in 1983, and spent three years with the organization. During that time, he was teammates with Jim Benning — the club’s current GM — as well as Stan Smyl, who currently serves as Vancouver’s director of player development.

Recently, Lowry has expressed an interest in returning to the NHL. He was Brent Sutter’s assistant in Calgary for three years before taking the WHL gig.

“I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere. But like anybody, I like to explore opportunities. If one came up, I would have to look at it,” Lowry said, per the Times-Colonist. “I aspire to the next level. At some point, I would like to get back to the NHL.”

The 52-year-old could soon be there. Chek News noted that, unlike previous years, Lowry left Victoria immediately following his exit interviews last week. Traditionally, he stuck around to tend to various club matters and business.

Lowry is regarded as one of the best active coaches on the junior circuit. Last year, he captured the WHL’s coach of the year award and, two years ago, was an assistant coach on the Canadian team that captured gold at the world juniors.

 

Rangers extend d-man Kampfer — two years, $1.3 million

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Steve Kampfer didn’t dress for New York’s series-opening win over Montreal on Wednesday.

Thursday, things went a little better.

Kampfer agreed to a two-year, two-way extension with the Blueshirts, per TVA. It’s a $1.3 million pact worth $650,000 annually at the NHL level.

Kampfer, 28, was acquired from Florida midseason in the Dylan McIlrath trade. He appeared in 10 games for the Blueshirts, scoring two points while averaging just under 13 minutes per night.

A veteran of nearly 150 career NHL contests, Kampfer had spent time with Boston and Minnesota prior to Florida and New York. He announced confirmation of the signing on his Instagram account earlier this afternoon.

San Jose’s racking up the AHL awards

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The Sharks have to be thrilled with what the Barracuda are doing.

(This is a hockey post. Honest.)

Today, San Jose’s AHL affiliate earned its third major year-end accolade as Danny O’Regan captured the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award for outstanding rookie.

More:

With two games remaining in the regular season, O’Regan is pacing all AHL rookies in scoring with 56 points (22 goals, 34 assists) while skating in 61 games for the Barracuda.

The leading point-getter for the team with the AHL’s top-ranked offense, O’Regan has also notched 10 power-play goals and recorded five game-winning tallies, and has a plus/minus rating of plus-9 while accruing just 10 minutes in penalties all season.

Watch Sharks vs. Oilers on Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET

O’Regan, 23, is a former fifth-round pick that joined San Jose this year after a solid career at Boston University. He’s appeared in three NHL contests — scoring once — and also represented the Barracuda at the AHL All-Star Game.

As mentioned above, O’Regan isn’t the only Barracuda to score some hardware this season. Yesterday, head coach Roy Sommer won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award for coach of the year, after guiding the club to the Pacific Division title.

Prior to that, another Sharks farmhand — Troy Grosenick — took home the Baz Bastien Award for most outstanding goalie. Grosenick, 27, finished with a 30-9-3 record, 1.98 GAA and .930 save percentage while posting a whopping 10 shutouts.