PITTSBURGH – It wasn’t the kind of lasting memory that Petr Mrazek wanted to leave as his extended stint as Jimmy Howard’s understudy more than likely came to an end Wednesday.
“That’s hockey,” Mrazek said. “Sometimes you have the luck and (the puck) hits you. Sometimes it goes in. Nothing we can do with that.”
Mrazek was roughed up from the start, allowing four goals on 17 shots as the Pittsburgh Penguins blitzed the Red Wings, who dropped a 4-1 decision at Consol Energy Center, snapping their modest three-game winning streak.
“It’s a game so nothing changes,” said Mrazek, whose immediate fate is unknown. “Of course you know we lost so I am disappointed for that.”
Mrazek gave way to Howard, who made his first appearance since suffering a slightly torn groin muscle in the opening two minutes at Washington Jan. 10. The Wings’ No. 1 starter came in at the start of the third period and stopped all four shots that he faced.
“I was seriously excited to get back out there,” said Howard, who is expected to start his first game in more than a month when the Red Wings host Winnipeg Saturday at Joe Louis Arena. “It’s been so long that whenever you can get back out there you want to. I was excited to get back out there.”
For the sixth time this season – and the third since filling in for Howard – Mrazek allowed a goal in the first 2 ½ minutes of a game when Patric Hornqvist opened the scoring at 1:51. With the exception of the recent 5-1 loss at Tampa Bay, Mrazek had managed to shake off early goals to help the Wings to three previous wins.
Despite the loss, nobody in the Wings’ locker room will lose focus on exactly what Mrazek meant while the club’s top two goalies were on injured reserve. With Howard and Jonas Gustavsson on the mend, the Wings compiled a 9-2-0 record with Mrazek securing eight of those wins.
“Don’t worry about that,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I got a good memory for those things. He plays real well.”
Turnovers were a problem from the start for the Wings, who gave up goals to Hornqvist and David Perron on defensive zone giveaways.
“Obviously, we’re the ones making the turnovers,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We didn’t have enough speed, so we put ourselves in situations where we’re forced to make a play instead of keeping it simple. Sometimes that happens. We just got to move on. We got a game in a few days, just got to erase this.”
Though shots on goal were relatively even early – Pittsburgh had an 8-6 edge through the first 20 minutes – the Red Wings didn’t seem to possess the puck much during the first period.
A bad exchange between Luke Glendening and Niklas Kronwall below the goal line led to the Penguins’ second even-strength tally of the period. Hornqvist picked up his ninth multi-point game of the season – and his first since Dec. 23 – when he scooped up the loose puck behind the Wings’ net and shuttled a pass to a wide-open Blake Comeau, who fired a one-time from close range that surprised Mrazek at 12:15.
“They were good and we were bad,” Babcock said. “They played fast, we played slow. They competed, we stood around. If it wasn’t for Mrazek it could have been way worse. … I don’t know if we just thought it was going to be easy. We won lots of games here lately but a little humble pie for us tonight. We got our lunch fed to us and they were better.”
Another turnover led to the Penguins’ 3-0 lead at 3:04 of the second period as David Perron banged a rebound passed Mrazek. Nearly five-minutes later, Pittsburgh had a four-goal cushion when Nick Spaling tipped Rob Scuderi’s wrist shot from the left point.
It was at this point Babcock approached Howard about entering the game.
“Yeah I knew I was coming in,” Howard said. “We talked about it. He wanted to do what was best for me instead of throwing me in cold. He wanted me to come in here and warm up and get the muscles moving again.”
The Wings’ silver lining came late in the second when they produced a goal on their first power-play opportunity of the night. Stationed in the low slot, Stephen Weiss converted on a pass from Henrik Zetterberg by spinning and firing a shot that managed to get underneath Marc-Andre Fleury at 13:26.
The Wings, who lead the league in power-play goals (49) and power-play efficiency (25.9 percent), have converted in four straight games. Detroit’s penalty kill was perfect on two chances, and is 10-for-10 in the past three games.
As for Mrazek, the rookie could be send to AHL Grand Rapids, or the Wings could elect to keep three goalies on the roster until they would have to make room for Johan Franzen (concussion), who is nowhere near returning.
“I told him to keep his chin up,” Howard said. “What is he, 9-2 in his last 11? That’s pretty impressive. You’ve got to remember he’s 22 years old. He’s still pretty green when it comes to playing in the NHL. He’s only going to get better. He’s got a great work ethic. He wants to learn. He’s got the makings of someone who’s going to be a good player.”