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Mrazek's maturity impresses his coach

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson congratulated Petr Mrazek on his shutout of the Hurricanes in last April's season finale. Mrazek is 2-0-0 against the Canes with a 0.50 GAA. (Photo by Getty Images)

RALEIGH, N.C. Petr Mrazek gets his first regular-season start tonight in a building where he earned his last regular-season shutout.

The 23-year-old Mrazek leads the Red Wings against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena, where he stopped 35 shots in lifting Detroit to a 2-0 win in the 2014-15 season finale last April.

“It’s a nice building,” Mrazek said. “I think it’s going to be a good game today. It’s their home opener. It’s going to be fun.”

Tonight marks the fourth season debut for Mrazek, who has five shutouts in 40 career games played. He is 3-0-0 in his previous three season debuts for the Wings.

In two career starts against Carolina, Mrazek has posted a 2-0-0 record with a 0.50 goals-against average and a .986 save percentage.

Mrazek gets the start the day after Jimmy Howard made 22 saves in the Red Wings’ 4-0 win over Toronto at Joe Louis Arena. With the Wings’ schedule front loaded with six sets of back-to-back games in the first two months, coach Jeff Blashill has said he plans to platoon duties between Howard and Mrazek.

“Back-to-back games it happens,” Mrazek said. “Two goals playing, so I real happy that we’re going to rotate and both guys will play every week. It’s good competition and I’m excited for that.”

Both Mrazek and Howard were tremendous during the preseason, which gives the first year NHL head coach the necessary confidence to put either guy in the starting role. However, a lot of that confidence, Blashill said, comes from the continued maturity growth from his young netminder.

“He’s mature a little bit beyond his years in a lot of ways, especially in ways of competing,” Blashill said. “He’s got great confidence to him, he doesn’t get nervous in any situations. I saw (Tomas) Tatar say something about him that it looks like he’s playing pond hockey all the time he plays, whether it’s Game 7 or a preseason game. He’s got a pretty special approach that way. … I think his skill set has continuously improved. He’s got those special mental qualities. His skill set had to continue to get better and it has.”

Tonight is the first of three scheduled meetings between the Wings and Hurricanes. The Hurricanes will visit Joe Louis Arena twice in the following 18 days.

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MILESTONE NIGHT: Dylan Larkin join some impressive company when he registered two points, including his first career goal, in his NHL debut on Friday.

The 15th overall selection in the 2014 NHL draft, Larkin scored his first goal 20 seconds into the second period of the Red Wings’ 4-0 victory over Toronto.

Blashill said the Wings will deploy the same line combinations and defensive pairings that they used Friday, that includes skating Larkin on the left wing with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

“I’ve had him in small sample sizes and I’ve always been cautious in small sample sizes not to get too excited,” Blashill said. “But he’s certainly passes every test that we’ve seen and that goes to his year, at Michigan, and the job he did in the World Juniors, the World Championships. When he came to play for us he wasn’t just potentially a good player he was an impact player for us in Grand Rapids. He’s done that through camp. He’s got great speed, great tenacity on the puck and a skill set to go with it and obviously he was playing on a good line with Zetterberg and Abdelkader.”

At 19 years and 71 days, Larkin became the fourth-youngest player in franchise history to produce a goal in his first league contest. The youngest was Steve Yzerman (18 years, 149 days), who scored in a 6-6 tie at Winnipeg, on Oct. 5, 1983. Gordie Howe was the second youngest (18 years, 199 days) and Claude Loiselle third (18 years, 245 days).

The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Larkin became the first Wings player to post multiple points in his debut since Vyacheslav Kozlov (two assists) at St. Louis, on March 12, 1992.

Larkin, the Waterford, Mich., native, who played one season at the University of Michigan, also became the first teen to skate in a season-opening game for the Red Wings since Mike Sillinger on Oct. 4, 1990.

Justin Abdelkader
Left Wing  - DET
Goals: 3 | Assists: 0 | Pts: 3
Shots: 3 | +/-: 2
THREE-PEAT: Abdelkader became third player in club history to record a hat trick in a Wings’ season opener. It was Abdelkader’s second career hat trick.

According to Elias, the others to score three goals in an opener are Adam Brown and Brendan Shanahan.

Brown’s effort helped the Wings jumpstart the 1945-46 season with a 7-0 home win over Boston. Shanahan scored three times in a 4-3 overtime victory at San Jose, on Oct. 4, 2001.

Abdelkader’s first goal on Friday came 75 seconds after the opening face-off. It’s the fastest goal by a Red Wing in a season opener since Danny Labraaten scored 74 seconds into his NHL debut in 1978-79.

The pride of Michigan State, Abdelkader joins a unique class of active players, who have all registered a season-opening hat trick. The others are: – and the second to do so in as many days: Paul Stastny, Colorado (10/3/07); Derek Stepan, NY Rangers (10/9/10); Mikhail Grabovski, Washington (10/1/13); Radim Vrbata, Phoenix (10/3/13); Corey Perry, Anaheim (10/9/14); and Zach Parise, Minnesota (10/8/15).

Henrik Zetterberg
Left Wing  - DET
Goals: 0 | Assists: 3 | Pts: 3
Shots: 1 | +/-: 3
BIRTHDAY BOY: Celebrating his 35th birthday, Zetterberg collected three assists to pass Hall of Fame defenseman Borje Salming and move into 10th place on the NHL’s all-time list for points by a Swedish-born player.

With 789 career points, the Red Wings’ captain is 28 points shy of catching Tomas Steen (817 points), who is ninth all time on the Swedish points list.

Mats Sundin is the all-time leading Swedish scorer in NHL history, producing 564 goals and 1,349 points in 1,346 career games.

COACHING FRIENDS: For the second straight night, Blashill will look to the opposition’s bench and see someone he calls a friend.

In Friday’s season opener it was Toronto’s Mike Babcock, who gave Blashill his start in the NHL as an assistant coach in Detroit in the 2011-12 season.

Tonight it will be Carolina’s Bill Peters. The two coaches joined the Wings’ coaching staff as assistants together in 2011.

“There are friendships, certainly, that exist beyond hockey in my mind and I’ll have one of those tonight with Bill Peters,” Blashill said. “Bill Peters is somebody that I’m really, really close with. He’s a good friend of mine.”

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