This season’s preseason projections once again saw many experts predicting the Red Wings playoff streak coming to an end. Many of these experts said the streak would continue if the goaltending for the Red Wings was elite. Through seven games, that is exactly how Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek have played.
Detroit Red Wings Goaltending is Key to Win Streak
Mrazek Bailing out Shaky Defense
During the Red Wings first two games they allowed a total of 74 shots and ten goals. Eight of those goals came when Mrazek was in goal. Had he not been playing as well, the Lightning and Panthers could have each scored nearly ten goals. The defense and team as a whole really were not gelling for the last five periods the Wings spent in the sunshine state, and at times, Mrazek looked like the only defense. On the outside, giving up eight goals in two games doesn’t seem like a goalie is playing very well, but in the case of Mrazek, there was an exception.
In Tampa Bay, Detroit took two too many men penalties and allowed three power play goals, including the game-winning goal on one of the two bench minors. In Florida, the team generated just 13 shots through two periods. The team has obviously rebounded quite strongly and it’s no coincidence that Mrazek, despite facing an average of 34 shots, has posted a .938 save percentage in his three wins, including an astounding .977 mark on 74 even strength shots playing a big part in the fast start.
Howard Playing Like a Starter Once Again
Lets be clear, the number one goalie for the Red Wings is Mrazek. Last season coach Jeff Blashill tried to give both players equal time as the starting goaltender. By naming Mrazek as the starter from the beginning of the season, it more clearly defined the roles on the team, and allowed players to flourish in those roles. Jimmy Howard has been the consummate professional throughout his transition from all-star caliber starting goalie to a back-up.
There have been rumblings for the past few seasons that the Red Wings should trade Howard for a top four defenseman, but any value teams had for him declined with last season’s .906 save percentage and 2.80 goals against average. The decision to keep him has paid off thus far as he seems to have regained his mental confidence through new goaltending coach Jeff Salajko. Through his first two starts in this campaign, Howard has allowed just one goal on 63 shots faced, playing one of the best games of his career against the Rangers last Wednesday (32 saves). If he keeps this play up, he could be rewarded with a new job as a starter in the near future for a new club.
Where the Goaltending Will Lead the Red Wings
If the Wings continue to get the Vezina quality goaltending like they have during the first few weeks of the season, the streak will continue to 26 seasons. However, if the defense continues to allow numerous shots on goal, Detroit will have a hard time keep goals off the board and in turn have a hard time putting games into the win column. The big thing has been a consistent sixty minute effort of possession, one that has been seen once in a 5-3 win against Nashville all season long (61.18 Corsi-for percentage). The other six games, wins and losses, Detroit has posted a total possession rating of 43.49%.
When the goaltending eventually cools down from its hot start like it did last season, Detroit will have to tighten up on both sides of the puck. 5-2 is quite a surprising start from how the season began in Florida, but the team could get cold quickly if they do not help out their goaltenders.