DETROIT – Where would the Red Wings be without him?
No, not rookie Dylan Larkin, though, he too has been an absolute blessing as the team's leading goal scorer this season.
Where would the Wings be if not for goalie Petr Mrazek?
Mrazek has been a catalyst for the Red Wings this season, which is in stark contrast to the inconsistency he battled during the 2014-15 campaign.
In the first few months of this season, coach Jeff Blashill said the Wings had a good problem: two elite goaltenders as Mrazek fought for playing time with veteran Jimmy Howard.
Through the first 11 weeks, the two goalies started alternate games. However, Mrazek was given nine of 11 starts in January, and had the kind of success that would indicate he’s confiscated the No. 1 starting role as the Wings head down the stretch and into the playoffs.
On Monday, the NHL announced its Three Stars of the Month, but Mrazek was conspicuously absent from the list.
Mrazek posted a 7-1-1 record and two shutouts while producing a remarkable 1.32 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. He was named first star of the game for wins at New Jersey (Jan. 4) and San Jose (Jan. 7); second star at Buffalo (Jan. 22); and third star at Anaheim (Jan. 10), as well as a 2-1 loss to St. Louis (Jan. 20).
“He’s as cool as they come back there and that playing the puck well for us helps on the breakout, helps the D a ton,” Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser said. “He’s just so confident back there he never seems to get rattled. Even when one goes in he just kind of shakes it off and keeps playing. That’s something he’s really good at and it’s what makes him so good.”
Mrazek’s confidence grows with every start, which has come in handy this season for a team that has registered one or no even-strength goals in 19 games.
Since taking hold of the Wings’ No. 1 starting job, Mrazek has established new personal single-season highs for games played (33), wins (18) and saves (942). He’s accumulated an 18-9-4 record with three shutouts, a 2.03 GAA and .932 save percentage.
Among goalies with at least 30 starts, Mrazek’s SV% is first in the league, while his GAA is second only to Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop (2.02).
“He's the same whether it's the Stanley Cup playoffs or he's playing maybe hockey in the summer,” Blashill said. “He just seems to have the same approach all the time, whether it's home, road, none of that stuff seems to bother him. He's been pretty consistently good throughout the season, certainly in the last month or so he's been real good. So I think it takes elite goaltending to win in this league. I think we're going to have to continue to get elite goaltending to win as we go through the rest of the year.”
Of the 240 saves he made last month, Mrazek's stop on San Jose's Joel Ward could certainly be in the running for save of the year. Moments after his diving paddle save, Justin Abdelkader scored the game-winning goal late in the third period.
"He's played great for us, especially here lately," Abdelkader said after the 2-1 win over the Sharks. "I think we've gotten great goaltending throughout the year. Both guys have stepped in when they really needed to. Right now we've been riding Petr lately and he's been playing great. We just got to do a little better job in front of him and make it a little easier on him."
On Monday, the league named Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov, Chicago's Corey Crawford and Pittsburgh's Kris Letang first, second and third star of the month, respectively. The Blackhawks' goalie Crawford was 9-2-0 and two shutout with a 1.64 GAA and .952 save percentage.