The Time Has Come: Tom McCollum Deserves a Start

(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Recently, I posted an article in which I stated Tom McCollum had no future with the Detroit Red Wings. So, the headline of this article may be confusing. Let me assure you I still feel the same way about McCollum. However, after his stellar play against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday in relief of Petr Mrazek, McCollum at least deserves an opportunity to start his first NHL game.

Mrazek’s Struggles

When Jimmy Howard went down with an injury against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 10, I had complete faith Mrazek would be able to help the Red Wings secure wins while Howard was injured. He did just that, as he won his first three games allowing no more than two goals. Two of those games were against two of the better teams in the Western Conference in St. Louis and Nashville.

However, during the next four, Mrazek wasn’t as solid. He allowed four goals in three straight wins against Buffalo, Minnesota and Florida and five last night in a loss to Tampa Bay. Luckily, the team was able to help him out by scoring 16 goals during those three wins.

Now, I’m not saying the onus falls squarely on Mrazek. There have been times when his defense hasn’t done him any favors, however, especially last night, Mrazek allowed a couple weak goals that leads me to believe me might be suffering from a bit of fatigue.

The first weak goal was on the penalty kill, as Steven Stamkos simply blasted a shot through the five hole of Mrazek. Mrazek got over in time to stop the one-timer, but he didn’t close up the five hole good enough, and it found its way into the net.

You can see from Mrazek’s reaction that he thought he should have had that one. They always say the goalie is your best penalty killer, and Mrazek’s play of late is a reason why the penalty kill has struggled.

The second weak goal he gave up was shorthanded, which is bad enough to allow a shorthanded goal, but it was a shot Mrazek will stop 99 times out of 100. Cedric Paquette fired a shot short side on a two on one, and it found its way into the net to give Paquette his first career hat trick.

Mrazek has started seven straight games for the Red Wings since Howard went down with an injury. Even though he had a five-day break with the All-Star festivities this past weekend, it’s clear Mrazek has not been playing up to the high standards he set for himself, as Kukla’s Korner’s George Malik tweeted last night.

McCollum Impresses Against Tampa Bay

Meanwhile, McCollum started the third period of the game against the Lightning facing a 5-1 deficit, so the hope was to not only send a message to the rest of the team but to try and stop the bleeding. McCollum did just that, as he made 17 saves and kept Tampa Bay from expanding on its lead. And it wasn’t as if the Lightning had given up and were strictly playing defense. They came at McCollum just as hard as they came at Mrazek. McCollum had to make a number of key saves just to keep the deficit at four.

As you can see from the videos, McCollum looked very impressive against one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Malik hinted McCollum’s play might have earned him a start Saturday against the New York Islanders.

McCollum Should Start on Saturday

I think McCollum deserves the start. Mrazek clearly isn’t playing as well as he is capable of, so why not give McCollum a chance to prove himself? He may not have a future with the Red Wings, but there are 29 other NHL teams McCollum could land with should he continue his great play.

Howard and/or Gustavsson should be returning in the coming weeks, so it’s not as if McCollum will be starting for an extended period of time. A shakeup in net might motivate the rest of the team to clamp down on defense and get back to its winning ways.

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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.