“I’m going to have a beer and I’m going to think about [who starts Saturday].”
Mike Babcock uttered that statement after the Detroit Red Wings clinched their 24th consecutive playoff appearance in 2015, his last year as head coach. It was in response to a question on who would start for Detroit the rest of the way going into the postseason with both Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek struggling down the stretch.
It’s been a couple of years, but with both still on the team on account of general manager Ken Holland unable to make a deal, current bench boss Jeff Blashill may have had, or may need one of those beers going into this season.
Roots of the Controversy
The present goaltending controversy was put to bed for a time when Mrazek took over in 2015-16 and just dragged the team on his back for the first half of that season at an elite level. Let’s repeat that, an elite level.
Through February 13th, 2016, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games to that point, he posted a .933 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average in 38 appearances, both best in the NHL. Meanwhile, Howard to that point was all but written off, and performed to the tune of a .904 save percentage and 2.89 goals against average in 20 starts. However, since that fateful 24th birthday on February 14th against the Bruins when he let in five wacky goals, Mrazek’s elite status all but left. Howard, however, remarkably was quite impressive himself after a pair of inconsistent seasons.
In 58 starts from then to April 9th, 2017, the numbers were concerning to say the least for the now 25-year-old. An .898 save percentage (.911 at even strength), along with a 3.13 goals against average brought an already mediocre team from the status of a bubble playoff squad in 2016 down to a group that flirted with the draft lottery last year. Howard all of a sudden with Mrazek’s fall found new life under new goaltender coach Jeff Salajko, who once coached Mrazek in Grand Rapids, ironically enough. In the same …
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