Petr Mrazek Takes Starting Job, For Now

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It’s not a secret that Jimmy Howard hasn’t exactly been at the top of his game since the groin injury he sustained just before the All-Star break earlier this season. In fact, I can’t remember the last Howie stood on his head, and with Petr Mrazek having stepped it up in the first round of the playoffs against the formidable Tampa Bay Lightning (and being at least a year ahead of schedule in terms of skill and confidence), it looks as if Howard is going to take the backseat in Detroit this coming season.

But how exactly does the rookie stack up against Stanley-Cup-winning, would-be All-Star? Well, let’s first look at the straight facts:

Petr Mrazek: The guy has a pretty solid start to greatness. In 2013, he not only carried the Grand Rapids Griffins to winning the Calder Cup, but he was also a 2013 AHL All-Star. The young goalie spent some time in his homeland of the Czech Republic in 2012 where he received the award for Best Goaltender, as well as a few seasons in the OHL in Ottawa where, in 2011, he had the Best Save Percentage in the league. More recently, in the 2014-15 NHL regular season, the young net-minder saw 35+ shots in 3 straight games in mid- to late-January, winning all three starts and in turn winning his first three starts of the season.

To top it all off, Mrazek pulled off (with great skill and poise, I might add) a stellar performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning in his first playoff appearance by shutting them out twice in the series as a rookie goaltender. Oh, and his goalie idol: none other than Hall-of-Fame goalie Dominik Hasek, who played for the Red Wings on and off from 2001-2008, and is well known for leaving his crease to fight for a puck, hints of which you can see blooming in Mrazek. [stats courtesy of: http://redwings.nhl.com/club/player.htm?id=8475852&view=stats]

Jimmy Howard: That’s not to say that Jimmy Howard didn’t have a similarly stellar beginning. The man played for the 2014 US Men’s Hockey Olympic team for puck’s sake! He was a 2012 NHL All-Star, and would’ve been one this year as well if not for the groin injury. He was on the 2010 NHL All-Rookie Team and was a Calder Trophy runner-up that year as well. This season, Howie played his 300th NHL game. Even more impressive, he’s the first goalie in Red Wings’ history to win more than 35 games in his first 3 seasons with the Red Wings from 2009-12, and in that time was nominated for the 2010 Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. [stats courtesy of: http://redwings.nhl.com/club/player.htm?id=8470657&view=notes]

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So, what do all these facts add up to? It’s hard to say. If we look at most recent history and don’t consider the progress that summer training will undoubtedly bring for both net-minders, choosing Mrazek as the starting goalie is a clear-cut decision. The Red Wings were hurting hard for a solid goalie between the posts, especially when both Howard and Jonas Gustavsson were injured, and Howard again when he came back after healing up from his injury and simply wasn’t the same.

The 23-year-old Czech took a Detroit team which none of the so-called experts had picked to win the series against Tampa Bay, got two shut-outs, made more than a few highlight-reel stops, and carried them to a heart-breaking game 7. Not even Montreal could force a game 7 on the Lightning in these playoffs so far. His track-record in his short playoff career is certainly impressive (with a .925 SV% and a 2.11 GA), but does that make him good enough to take control of the spot of top net-minder over a determined Jimmy Howard on the mend both mentally and physically? Again, it’s hard to say.

Regardless of the insurmountable odds stacking up against Howard, he claims he’s not going anywhere. According to the veteran goaltender, who was interviewed on the day the Red Wings first came back to Joe Louis Arena after being eliminated to clean out their lockers, he has no intention of going anywhere else. Howard says he’s planning to “work hard, try to improve and come back in the fall ready to play” over the off-season, but will it be enough to take back the top goalie spot from rookie Petr Mrazek?

“Howard says he’s planning to ‘work hard, try to improve and come back in the fall ready to play’ over the off-season…”

In a way, I hope so.

I’m not sure if Mrazek is ready to weather the tides of playing an entire season as the starting goalie. I have no doubt that he’s the future of the Red Wings’ franchise, but it’s not uncommon for a young goalie to burn himself out under the pressure. That being said, it’s a comfort knowing that Jimmy Howard will not only be fighting for his job, but will undoubtedly be a great influence on the kid that currently holds the spot.

The Detroit Red Wings have never been the kind of team to hand a guy a spot on the team because of seniority or reputation, especially Ken Holland recruiting the ragtag crew. Things are a bit up-in-the-air now that Babcock has signed a whopper of a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it’ll be interesting to see what sort of spoils summer training camp will bring.

The farm system the Red Wings have implemented in Grand Rapids (which will hopefully produce a new head coach for the Wings in Babcock’s absence) have allowed them to stay way under the salary cap, and have paved the way for young guys like Petr Mrazek to build up their reputation and give them a shot at the big leagues.

Mrazek’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect this past season, and I don’t doubt that we’ll be seeing great things from him in the future.

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