Mike Halford

Petr Mrazek
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Goalie nods: Detroit keeps rolling with red-hot Mrazek

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No surprise, but the Red Wings will give Petr Mrazek yet another start tonight when they host the Blues at Joe Louis.

Mrazek, who’s wrestled Detroit’s No. 1 gig away from Jimmy Howard, will look to build upon a remarkable month of January, during which he’s gone 5-0-1 with a 1.31 GAA and .957 save percentage.

While those numbers might — nay, are — impossible to keep up, Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill sees them as a sign of Mrazek’s arrival as a top-flight NHL netminder.

“His save percentage in January is phenomenal, [but] that can’t sustain itself,” said Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill, per ESPN. “I do think this is what he is as a goalie. I think he’s really, really growing into an elite goalie.”

At 16-8-4 on the year with a .931 save percentage and 2.10 GAA, Mrazek has worked himself into Vezina consideration. Though he lacks the workload of Braden Holtby, the consensus favorite right now, Mrazek has done a terrific job of not just beating Howard out for the No. 1 gig, but also keeping Detroit right in the thick of the Atlantic Division chase.

With a win tonight, the Red Wings would climb to within one point of Florida for top spot.

Mrazek and Co. will look to get those points against Brian Elliott, who’ll start for St. Louis.

Elsewhere…

Robin Lehner will make his second start since returning from injury when the Sabres take on the Avs in Colorado. Lehner allowed three goals on 30 shots in his first game, a loss to the Bruins. For Colorado, Semyon Varlamov‘s in goal.

John Gibson will keep his starting gig when the Ducks host the Wild. After a hot start, Gibson has plateaued a bit with a .902 save percentage in his last five starts. No word yet on a Minnesota starter.

Isles’ D takes another hit as Pelech (upper body) reportedly done for year

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Adam Pelech #50 of the New York Islanders skates against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Adam Pelech‘s rookie campaign could be over before it ever really got started.

On Wednesday, Newsday reported that Pelech’s upper-body injury is “almost surely season-ending,” which would limit the 21-year-old’s first NHL season to just seven games played.

It’s unclear right now what’s ailing Pelech, New York’s third-round pick at the ’12 draft.

Head coach Jack Capuano called it a “freak thing,” and it’s worth noting Pelech was held out of Sunday’s loss to the Canucks despite being classified as a gametime decision.

Whatever the case, his absence will hurt.

Pelech had two points in his first seven games, averaging 16:42 TOI. He’d previously impressed down with AHL Bridgeport, though his recall was partly due to the other injuries New York has suffered on defense — specifically, those to Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic.

As for updates on those two…

With Boychuk, Hamonic and Pelech out of the lineup on Sunday, the Isles were forced to ice a defense comprised of Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey, Marek Zidlicky, Brian Strait, Scott Mayfield and Calvin de Haan.

Leddy and Hickey both played over 25 minutes in the shootout defeat, while de Haan clocked in at 23:40.

McLellan laments Nugent-Hopkins loss: ‘For me, he’s like Joe Pavelski’

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
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If there was ever any doubt about how highly Todd McLellan thinks of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it was laid to rest this week.

“Nuge for me — and I’ve told Nuge this — he’s like Joe Pavelski,” McLellan told the Edmonton Sun, after Nugent-Hopkins was ruled out for 6-8 weeks with a broken hand. “I trust him in every situation. He’s real competitive.”

That McLellan used the Pavelski comparison is telling.

The two were side-by-side in San Jose for seven years and, under McLellan’s watch, Pavelski emerged as one of the league’s best goalscorers, potting a career-high 41 during the ’13-14 campaign.

Now, Pavelski is the Sharks’ captain.

McLellan’s comments are also noteworthy given RNH has been in trade talks for most of this season. With budding star center Connor McDavid in the fold and the emergence of Leon Draisaitl as a capable No. 2, there’s been chatter about Nugent-Hopkins being expendable.

Last week, those trade talks were further stoked when a Sportsnet report claimed the Oilers had offered Nugent-Hopkins to Nashville in exchange for Seth Jones, prior to Jones going to Columbus for Ryan Johansen.

Yet despite that, McLellan continued to go to bat for his young pivot.

“Nuge gets a bad rap for being soft,” he explained. “He’s the farthest thing from soft.”

‘Not an easy situation’ in Anaheim, says Khudobin

Anaheim Ducks goalie Anton Khudobin deflects a shot by the San Jose Sharks during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In reading the headline above, you might think Anton Khudobin was talking about his team’s well-documented struggles.

But he’s not. He’s talking about his own.

Khudobin, acquired at the draft to be Anaheim’s backup netminder this year, has been bumped down to third string after John Gibson usurped Frederik Andersen as the team’s No. 1. That means Khudobin’s now spending a fair bit of time with AHL San Diego — not the ideal spot for a 29-year-old veteran making $2.25 million this season.

“It’s not an easy situation to be in,” Khudobin said, per the O.C. Register.

Given where he was just two seasons ago, Khudobin’s probably surprised where he’s at.

After a good cameo as Tuukka Rask‘s backup in Boston during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, Khudobin signed in Carolina on the cheap ($800,000) and emerged as one of the NHL’s best bargains, going 19-14-1 with a .926 save percentage and 2.30 GAA.

That performance netted him a two-year, $4.5M extension from the ‘Canes — a pretty nice raise — but that’s when things started to go south.

Khudobin struggled in his first year of the extension and, as mentioned, was flipped to Anaheim at the draft in exchange for James Wisniewski. With his contract set to expire at season’s end, the plan — as laid out by Ducks GM Bob Murray — was for Khudobin to back up for a year, allowing Gibson further seasoning in the American League.

But, obviously, it’s worked out much differently.

“It’s a hard situation,” Khudobin said. “In that case, somebody has to go. In my mind, if they’re going to find me a place where I can go and play and be on an NHL team, it’s great.

“If not, then I just have to wait until the end of the season.”

‘Canes put Ward on IR with concussion

Cam Ward
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Significant shakeup in goal in Carolina — the club has placed veteran Cam Ward on injured reserve with a concussion, and recalled Daniel Altshuller from AHL Charlotte.

How Ward suffered his concussion is unclear at the moment. In his last outing, a 3-2 OT loss to Vancouver, he stopped 19 of 22 shots and played the entire game — though it’s worth noting that, in the game followin, Eddie Lack was left in for all five goals in a 5-0 drubbing against Pittsburgh.

Ward, 31, has had an erratic year, going 14-11-5 with a 2.42 GAA and .905 save percentage. That said, he was playing some of his best hockey at the time of his injury — in five games in January, he’d stopped 124 of 134 shots for a .925 save percentage.

Looking ahead, it sure seems as though Lack will carry the load moving forward. Altshuller is only 21, and this year marks his first in the American League after spending time with ECHL Florida.

Carolina’s third-round pick in 2012, Altshuller has played well for the Checkers this season, going 9-1-1 with a 1.71 GAA, a .941 save percentage and one shutout in 11 games.

Looking even further ahead, it’ll be interesting to see how this injury affects Ward’s status within the organization. A pending UFA, there hasn’t been much movement on a new contract and he could be headed to market this summer.