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Red Wings goaltenders thriving while sharing starts

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

TORONTO -- Goalies Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek are turning what could have been an uncomfortable situation for the Detroit Red Wings into an undeniable strength for a team that appears to still be trying to figure out its identity and how good it can be.

Neither Howard nor Mrazek has emerged as the No. 1 goalie for the Red Wings, but that's only because each has played well in his starts this season, giving coach Jeff Blashill reason enough to keep going with the two-goalie system for the time being.

Mrazek, who made 32 saves in a 2-1 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, has started seven games and has four wins, a 2.42 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.

Howard, who made 29 saves in his previous start, a 3-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 31, has started six games with three wins, a 2.01 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Howard could start Sunday against the Dallas Stars.

The Red Wings are 7-5-1 and have an even goal differential (32-32). They're 20th in goals for per game, but 12th in goals against despite allowing the third-most shots on goal per game (32.5).

"They've given us elite goaltending pretty much all season long," Blashill said. "They have an understanding what the plan is and we're going to continue with that plan right now."

Blashill and goalie coach Jim Bedard give Howard and Mrazek their schedules at the beginning of every week. This way they know exactly when they're playing and can prepare for that start, that particular opponent.

"We'll let separation happen if it happens, but if not they're both going to play," Blashill said. "They know exactly what to expect. It's been good so far."

It has been because Howard and Mrazek treat the situation as if they're in a competition with a friend for ice time. They genuinely enjoy being around each other and working close together. They have fun, joke around, and push each other at the same time.

"It's taken a little bit of getting used to for both of us because Petr was playing every night in GR [Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League] and I was playing the majority of the games here, but it seems to be working for us now," Howard said. "He's a great kid. We get along great. I think it's pretty easy for us. It's comfortable."

Mrazek, who at 23 years old is in his second NHL season, is benefiting because of Howard's experience.

"I can learn from him," Mrazek said. "He's been in the League for a long time so I can watch him and see what he does on the ice. It's helping me."

Howard, 31, gets a kick out of Mrazek's youthful energy.

"With him being a little bit younger than me he's a little bit more aggressive," Howard said. "Over the course of the years of playing I've learned to be more calm in the net. He loves flashing the leather. He's a fun player to watch."

Howard, Detroit's No. 1 goalie for the past six seasons, has had to adjust his practice habits to make up for being in fewer games than he's used to. Entering this season, he had played in 71.8 percent of Detroit's games since the 2009-10 season (329 of 458).

"Let's be honest, both of us want to be out there playing every single night, but I think that's just the competitive nature in both of us," Howard said. "This is a long season, it's a grueling season and it's tough on your body, so I think right now take advantage of the rest and get your work done in practice. That's one thing I've realized this year, when you're not playing night in and night out you have to treat practice like a game."

Mrazek said he's young enough to still be at the point where he's just happy to get in a game. That will wear off and he'll be pushing for more ice time. He'll have to push Howard out of the way. Howard is showing that it won't be that easy.

Eventually, one will emerge and the other will have to take a backseat, but it's working now, which is why Blashill isn't in any rush to force one of them into being the unquestioned No. 1.

"I look at it like my college years, I pretty much rotated in college so I just drew from that going into the year," Howard said. "We get along great. We're having fun together, joking around. We've got a great relationship, and we motivate and push each other as well."

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