The Detroit Red Wings have not named a starting goaltender for the 2015-16 season. It is something that Jeff Blashill is content with letting his goaltenders figure out for themselves. For Petr Mrazek, the situation is an opportunity to prove that he can play in the starting role at the NHL level. On the other hand, Jimmy Howard might view the situations as a challenge – “show us you can still be ‘the guy’”. Whether or not you believe Howard is a legitimate starting goaltender in the NHL, he has been the Red Wings’ starter for six years now. For the first time in a long time, Howard has to earn that role. It is in the best interest for everyone involved – Howard, Mrazek and the Red Wings – that he rises to the occasion.
Returning to Form
Howard went down with a groin tear last season during a game against the Washington Capitals on January 10th. Prior to that game, he was playing some very solid hockey. In fact, his numbers during October (1.97 GAA, .929 Sv%) and December (1.98 GAA, .926 Sv%) were quite impressive. Obviously, the injury had a negative impact on his game, as he went on to post save percentages of .896, .902, .890 and .902 in the remaining months of the season.
Heading into the 2015-16 season, Howard’s looking to find his game again and reclaim his role as the Red Wings’ starter. As he told mLive’s Brendan Savage, he knows there is a battle ahead:
“Just go out there and work hard and seize the opportunity,” Howard said Tuesday. “It’s there for the taking and just go back out there and reclaim your spot. It’s going to be an open battle, and the way it should be.”
Howard pushing to reclaim his spot is the best-case scenario – you do not want either goaltender getting too comfortable at this stage. Even if you are in favour of the Red Wings moving the 31-year-old goaltender, take a second to think on why the team should not rush to move him just yet.
“Your Time is Up, His Time is Now”
Not so fast. Over the course of the summer, even going back to the playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, there were cries for the Wings to move Howard. Undoubtedly, Mrazek is the future starter for this team, but future can wait for a season or two. The Red Wings are in a fantastic situation, spending just a shade over 6M on their goaltending tandem. Of course, that will change next season, as Mrazek is due for a raise.
Besides, if the Red Wings elected to move Howard, who would serve as backup to Mrazek? With all respect to Tom McCollum, Jared Coreau and Jake Paterson, none of them are ready for duty in the NHL. The Red Wings are in an ideal situation – one that is going to foster the growth of Mrazek and the rest of its goaltenders.
Petr the Inconsistent
It’s not a knock against Petr – most young goaltenders experience consistency issues. That is why keeping Howard is necessary, at least for now. When Mrazek struggles (and yes, it will happen) it will be important for him and the team to have the option of turning to Howard. While the 23-year-old netminder is certainly capable of putting up impressive stretches, he still needs work. Mrazek can play lights-out one game; he has also put up his fair share of poor efforts.
.840 – .971
.813 – .933
.857 – .962
.667 – .957
.765 – .977
.895 – 1.000
As you can see, Mrazek’s save percentage deviated quite a bit from game-to-game. The positive – he almost never posted poor numbers in back-to-back games. In fact, most of the time, Mrazek put together an impress bounce-back effort after his poor showings. Until Mrazek can refine his game, Howard should stick around to complement the tandem? We should all be longing to see the best version of Howard this season, for the good of Mrazek, the Detroit Red Wings and the man himself.