DETROIT – Approaching his first training camp this week as the 27th head coach in franchise history, Jeff Blashill is faced with a few roster decisions prior to the season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs Oct. 9.
One such verdict he’ll make is in net, where a battle is expected to ensue between two-time All Star Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, the upstart who swiped the goaltending duties a way from the veteran during last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Both Jimmy and Petr have built a resume,” Blashill said. “Petr's is smaller, it's shorter at the NHL level, obviously so he needs to continue to build upon that. Consistency, I think is probably the key to success in pro sports and certainly it's true of goaltenders.”
Mrazek splashed on to the scene last season after Howard missed a month with a groin tear. The 23-year-old from the Czech Republic plays with plenty of confidence, even in defeat. He was pulled out of four games last season only to bounce back with a combined 3-0-1 record with a 1.71 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage in the four NHL starts that followed his poor starts.
Heading into his first full NHL season, Mrazek understands that consistency will go a long way in building confidence among his teammates and the new coaching staff.
“Yeah, that’s going to be a very important thing, you know, have games solid and play well all of the time and be prepared and ready for every game,” he said.
Last season, Mrazek allowed two or fewer goals in 17 of his 29 NHL games for the Red Wings while leading the club to an 11-4-2 record in those contests with a 0.98 GAA and a .957 save percentage.
Mrazek’s strong finish in the regular season led to him winning the starting job in the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Wings lost the series in seven games. But Mrazek was certainly one of the team’s bright spots, earning two shutout victories.
“That was great that I had chance to start last year, but this is over,” Mrazek said. “It happened and now it’s a new time to show the coaches and the staff that I’m ready for a full job here and play in as many games as I can.”
Never short on confidence, Mrazek is exciting for training camp and the upcoming preseason, where he hopes to serve notice as Detroit’s No. 1 man between the pipes.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I think we’re going to have fun and we’re going to enjoy the time in Traverse and have good practices before some games starts.”
Regardless, the Wings will need to rely on both Mrazek and Howard, especially early in the season. The Wings will play 14 back-to-back games in the first seven weeks.
“We play eight preseason games so they'll both get a good chunk of games, how many I don't know yet, but they'll both get a chance to be able to show where they're at and stake their claim for the job,” Blashill said. “If you also look at the regular-season start, we've got a number of back-to-backs, so it really lends itself well to both guys getting a chance to show that they want to be the starter. We'll let the competition play itself out but again, I think the thing about competition is it doesn't end at any point. It remains throughout the season and that goes for everybody.”