<span class="vcard">James O'Brien</span>

Florida Panthers v Detroit Red Wings

Goalie nods: Detroit’s Mrazek aims to impress

All the latest from the blue paint …

Amazing Mrazek?

With injuries an issue, it looks like the Detroit Red Wings will give goalie Petr Mrazek back-to-back starts and a great chance to make another impression as they face the lowly Buffalo Sabres.

(Yes, Buffalo deserves “lowly.” One local columnist thinks they’re tanking too hard.)

The Red Wings believe that the 22-year-old could have a real future, but Mrazek may just push things along a little bit if he keeps his current good work up. He’s won three games in a row, including holding the Buffalo Sabres to a single goal on Jan. 13. Going back a little further, he’s won five of six.

Overall, Mrazek is 8-3-1 with a .923 save percentage.

Detroit stands as big favorites here, especially since one seeming disadvantage (playing back-to-back games) is canceled out by the fact that Buffalo played on Saturday as well. The Sabres will probably turn to Jhonas Enroth. Whether it’s Enroth or Michal Neuvirth, they’ll be the underdog against Mrazek and the Red Wings.

Elsewhere …

Stars at Blackhawks: Kari Lehtonen likely against Corey Crawford

Coyotes at Jets: Mike Smith vs. Ondrej Pavelec

Metro sensational: Rangers continue dominance of division, Pens

New York Rangers v Carolina Hurricanes
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With three games in three-and-a-half days (give or take), it seemed like the New York Rangers were set up to stumble against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Instead, they basically ended the game early in the second period and eventually cruised to a convincing 5-2 win.

The Penguins made it 4-2 thanks to a sensational goal by David Perron – who remains hot as he gets acquainted in Pittsburgh – but they never really made the Rangers sweat since Marc-Andre Fleury was scuttled from his net.

(Especially mopey Penguins fans may even argue that it was all over when Rick Nash made it 1-0 just 26 seconds in.)

Any way you slice it, things are trending in the Rangers’ direction.

They’ve won 15 of their last 18 games. New York has throttled the Penguins and other Metropolitan Division opponents; they’re now 3-0-1 against Pittsburgh this season and 13-3-1 in the Metro in 2014-15.

Nash finished the afternoon with two goals, giving him sole possession of the NHL goalscoring lead with 28 tallies. Derek Stepan had two goals of his own while Martin St. Louis and Chris Kreider collected two assists.

About the only troubling moment for the Rangers came when Henrik Lundqvist seemed to be in pain at one point in the third period, although he stayed in and appears to be OK.

(Naturally, if he isn’t, it will be noted.)

Things aren’t so rosy for Pittsburgh, however. Between Friday’s loss to the New York Islanders and today’s defeat, they’ve lost by a combined score of 11-5. They’ve lost four of six and only have four wins since Dec. 22.

At least Perron’s looking great, though:

It’s a long season prone to peaks and valleys, something the slow-starting Rangers can relate to on this torrid run. It’s tough to deny that the Penguins are a little tepid right now, then.

Check out the full highlights below.

Buffalo columnist deems Sabres ‘historically inept’

Ted Nolan, Darcy Burchell
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It’s no secret that the Buffalo Sabres are bad this season. The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington goes much further and labels them “historically inept” in a scathing Sunday column.

Seriously, this is some stern stuff, and Harrington really directs his missiles at GM Tim Murray. These few paragraphs capture the crushing spirit of it all:

Instead, the Sabres have become historically inept. They’re a joke. A punchline. Most nights this team has little work ethic. They’re soft.

I can picture Tim Murray sitting in his office with a sinister look behind those glasses and a laugh heard to HarborCenter at what he’s concocting. This is the rookie GM’s first team and it’s pitiful. But yes, I know. We should celebrate what it will mean down the road. Especially now that the “goal” has been reached, at least for one night.

Harrington accuses the team of “disgracing the brand” and generally taking the concept of tanking too far. It’s the kind of column that prompts an organizational cold shoulder to a reporter, depending upon the market and the vengeful nature of a given front office. (In other words, it’s worth a read.)

Tanking is a controversial topic, and the Sabres are far from the only team to be accused of doing so in recent years. Extensive runs of poor finishes work out in the form of blue-chip prospects in some cases (most clearly the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks), yet that’s far from a hard rule (see: Oilers, Edmonton).

If you ask Harrington, Buffalo’s losing ways may be a bit too brazen, and the Sabres run the risk of digging a rebuilding hole a little too deep.

What do you think? Are the Sabres guilty of pushing the putrid envelope a little too far or are such criticisms a bit too extreme?

It sounds like Marc Staal’s extension is six years, $34.2M

Marc Staal
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The New York Rangers are expected to announce Marc Staal’s six-year contract extension shortly after Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the terms are so widely reported that it seems like a done deal.

Staal re-signed with the Rangers for six years at $5.7 million per season, which results in a $34.2 million pact overall.

Naturally, if any details conflict with reports, it will be noted on PHT.

Update: As expected, the Rangers confirmed the length of the extension, but not the financial terms.

Staal’s $5.7 million cap hit will make him New York’s priciest defenseman by a hair, edging Dan Girardi ($5.5 million), Ryan McDonagh ($4.75 million) and Dan Boyle ($4.5 million).

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks does a good job of depicting the Rangers’ long-term commitments when it comes to keeping the puck out of their net:

The defensive defenseman turned 28 on Jan. 13, so he’ll be 29 midway through the first season of that six-year extension.

The Rangers have plenty of other contract situations to settle, particularly those of Martin St. Louis (UFA) and Derek Stepan (RFA).

Rangers chase Fleury early in second period

Marc-Andre Fleury
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A compacted schedule indicated that the Pittsburgh Penguins might carry the advantage against the New York Rangers on Sunday, but that hasn’t happened. At least not yet.

The Rangers have instead had the early jump. Rick Nash scored the 1-0 goal 26 seconds into the game and New York took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

Things really fell apart for the Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury specifically in the second period, as Nash’s odd second goal made it 3-1 and then Derek Stepan chased him with a 4-1 goal minutes later.

Overall, Fleury allowed four goals on 17 shots in 25:19 of game time. This isn’t all on “MAF,” yet it’s been a rough outing nonetheless.