Detroit Red Wings goaltender, Petr Mrazek, has proved efficient in the place of Jimmy Howard, who has missed the last ten games since a slight groin tear against Washington on Jan 10.
In ten games, Mrazek has gone 9-1, with a 2.54 GAA (goals against average) and a .913 save percentage. With Howard being activated off of injured reserve following Detroit’s 3-1 win over Arizona last Saturday, the expectation was that Howard would start tonight’s game in Pittsburgh (8 p.m. on NBCSN). However, head coach Mike Babcock has decided to give Mrazek the start and have Howard on the bench.
Does this decision indicate a change of the guard in between the pipes, or is this simply Babcock giving Howard extra rest?
Either way, the Red Wings are no strangers to goalie controversy. During the 1996-97 season, Chris Osgood and Mike Vernon split the goaltending duties, but it was Vernon who would backstop Detroit to their first Stanley Cup since 1955. Following the season, Vernon would go on to be traded to San Jose and Osgood led the Red Wings to their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
Once again, in 2008, Osgood played a part in another goaltender controversy. This time it was Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek, who had started a majority of the season, but was pulled in favor of Osgood with Detroit’s first round series with Nashville even at two games apiece. The rest is history, as the Red Wings went on to win their 11th Stanley Cup, and Osgood’s second as a starting goaltender.
Although Mrazek has played well in Howard’s absence, it has not come without some struggles. During the ten-game stretch, Mrazek was pulled in two games, the first of which in Buffalo, where he allowed three first period goals and was pulled in favor of Tom McCollum. Three games later, Mrazek was chased in a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. However Mrazek responded well, posting a 28-save shutout in a 3-0 win over Colorado, his first as an NHL goaltender. In the three games since that loss to Tampa Bay, Mrazek has allowed two goals with a .973 save percentage.
There is no question that Detroit’s offense has been clicking during this ten-game stretch. The Red Wings have averaged 3.7 goals per game since Howard’s injury.
With 30 games left in the season, Babcock will have a tough decision to make, whether he goes with the hot-hand in Mrazek or the experienced Howard if, or most likely when, the Red Wings begin the playoffs.
While Mrazek is a goaltender who could backstop Detroit in the future, this is Howard’s time to prove that he is among the top goaltenders in the league and that he is indeed worthy of the six-year, $31.8 million contract extension that general manager Ken Holland gave him last season. If the Red Wings are indeed able to win Stanley Cup No. 12, it will be with Jimmy Howard in between the pipes.
Zach Fanko is the host of Octopi Hockeytown for Impact Sports