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Notes: Mrazek looking to start win streak for Wings

Wings will have tough test in hot Islanders team, now helmed by Michigan native Doug Weight

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - Petr Mrazek has been highly successful before and the Red Wings need him to be successful again.

Last January, Mrazek went 7-1-1 with a 1.32 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.

While the Wings don't expect him to play at that ridiculous level, his pre-All-Star break numbers last season would help.

Before the break, Mrazek was 18-9-4 with a 2.03 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

"I've seen Petr at his very best," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "Last month of January last year he was as good a goalie, that's as good a performance in a month as any goalie's put up. He's done things for me, both in the NHL and in the American League. There's no question he can get hot and go on a run. There's no question when he's at that real confident stage, he plays real big and he's real competitive and he doesn't get nervous in tight situations. There's no doubt that he can do it, just like there's no doubt our team can do it. Now we've got to prove it."

Mrazek will get his first opportunity this month tonight against the Islanders.

This season Mrazek is 10-12-5 with a 3.16 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.

"He's worked at some things technically this year and I think he's getting better at some of those things and I think in the long run it's going to make him a lot better goalie but, like changing your golf swing, sometimes it takes a little adjustment," Blashill said. "I think he, in terms of looking back at last year, we've certainly looked at some things and hopefully he's implemented some of those positive things back in his game."

Mrazek prefers on-ice work to looking back at old video of himself from last year.

"It starts with the practice and into the game," Mrazek said. "We changed a couple things and I think I feel way better in that position right now and nothing change for me. The same I was last year as this year and just keep going and doing best I can."

Mrazek played in the 6-5 shootout victory Jan. 18 at home against the Boston Bruins, when he came on in relief of Jared Coreau, then made 34 saves in the 3-2 overtime loss Jan. 20 at Buffalo.

After that, he played in the second game of the back-to-back before the All-Star break, the 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at home.

"I think everyone would be disappointed after that, when you get good stretch, good games," Mrazek said. "After Boston game, when you're down 2-0 and we win the game. And in Buffalo it was a pretty good performance there by me and then you don't play for three games. It's disappointing but when I get the call I just do my best."

Blashill said he believes Mrazek has taken steps, working especially hard the last month, to get where he wants to be and where the team needs him to be.

"I think he looks a lot of times like the Petr that we've seen here that's been an elite goalie in this league," Blashill said. "I think he needs some games to go his way. But you can't hope for that to happen, you've got to try to make it happen. But I think he's done the preparation to put himself in a position to have a good run. So as I said the other day, we need a goalie to get hot and go on a run and certainly Petr's extremely capable of that."

HOWARD TO GR: Jimmy Howard will take the next step in his recovery from a knee injury when he plays for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins Saturday night at Van Andel Arena.

"Definitely looking forward to it," Howard said. "It's been a long process here to get back, just over six weeks. I'm just looking forward to going down there and competing and being in game situations again. It's great we're able to have our AHL team so close that we're able to do things like this."

Blashill pointed out that it is tough for a goaltender coming back from injury because you're having to share the net with the backup goaltender so you don't get as many repetitions. Plus, practice can't really duplicate game situations.

"Just finding the puck through traffic, that's going to be the biggest thing," Howard said. "I'm facing shooters right now one-on-one, I feel pretty good, especially in practice, that's what you see a lot of. But now with 10 guys out there, the key is using my eyes to maintain that vision on the puck."

Howard said he will continue to wear a knee brace.

"I had a brace on that night when it happened," Howard said. "It's unfortunate. I don't really need braces, but I feel sort of naked without them. So when I'm out there, it's part of my thing right now."

Howard was injured Dec. 20 in Tampa Bay but feels he has taken the right amount of time to heal.

"I haven't given it a second thought, even when I'm out there, so that's a great sign," Howard said. "Next step here is to see some game action."

The Griffins also play at home next Wednesday, so Howard could play one more game there.

Blashill said they would decide Sunday after seeing how things go Saturday night.

NEILSEN'S NEW LINE: Frans Nielsen, who had been playing with Thomas Vanek and Andreas Athanasiou, is now centering a line with Tomas Tatar and Dylan Larkin.

"I played a bunch with Larks in the beginning," Nielsen said. "Tuna I haven't played too much with. I'm excited, two great offensive-minded guys so hopefully we can find some chemistry. You know Larks, he's a pure goal scorer so hopefully I can help him and get him some pucks and he can bury some of them."

Larkin is tied for the team lead in goals with Vanek and Tatar with 12.

"Obviously I've had Tatar and Larks a good amount here in the last two weeks," Blashill said. "They've played with (Riley) Sheahan, they've played with (Darren) Helm, now I've got them with Nielsen a little bit. I think both Tats and Larks are guys that can shoot the puck in the net on their own, I think Nielsen's a pretty good distributor. As those from the Island know, Nielsen's a great, great two-way player. I feel confident to put him out in a lot of situations and when Larks and Tats are playing their best, I think they're very, very accountable in the defensive zone. We need them to be great defensively so they can go out and play against other teams' best."

HOT ISLANDERS: The Islanders seem to be a different team since Michigan native Doug Weight replaced Jack Capuano as head coach on Jan. 17.

Weight is also the team's assistant general manager.

"Talking to a few of the guys, I know they made some tweaks in their system," Nielsen said. "Dougie coming in, taking over, I know it's a guy with a lot of respect, I know they're working really hard for him. He's that kind of guy, you want to play for him. I'm not surprised that they're doing the way they are."

The team has gone 5-0-1 with Weight and are 7-2-1 in their last 10.

"First of all, they're playing very well," Blashill said. "I think teams are so close right now that things like confidence become a big deal and obviously they've got lots of confidence. We've got to make sure that we make it a hard game for them. We've got to make sure that we don't give them anything easy to build that confidence upon. I know it's going to be a hard game, I know they're playing very well. They've got a few D-men out. When you look at their D corps when they're healthy, it's a really good D corps. But even with those guys out, they still got a real good D corps that can skate and they've got a number of forwards that can be dangerous and one of the better players in the world in Johnny Tavares. So certainly it'll be a great challenge for us."

Tavares, who played in the All-Star Game with Nielsen in Los Angeles, leads the NHL in goals with eight and points with 14 since Jan. 13.

"He's one of the best players in the league," Sheahan said. "I think offensively you definitely got to watch him and just stay on him, give him a few little whacks here and there just to not give him too much room. It'll be fun to play against a guy like that. It always brings a challenge to the game so it'll be good."

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