I was at the Verizon Center the night of the Red Wings’ stinker of a game against the Capitals. I also enjoy walking into the Caps’ arena and seeing their 1997-98 Eastern Conference Championship banner hanging from the rafters. I may have been a kid then, but I distinctly remember Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, and Doug Brown scoring clutch goals for the Red Wings. Kris Draper had an important goal too.
But back to Howard.
We all saw Jimmy go behind the net to play the puck after the Caps dumped it in. Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser came back, but neither were in a position to beat Caps’ forward Troy Brouwer to the puck. DeKeyser yelled, “Play it! Play it!” for Howard to rim the puck around the boards. I could hear him all the way from my seat, so surely Howard heard him from 25 feet away. He panicked and left the puck blindly, thinking Quincey was coming through to take it. A few seconds later, the puck was in the net and Howard was agonizing in pain. Now, he’s out through the All-Star break, at the very least.
He was named to the All-Star team earlier that day.
With Howard on the shelf, it’s Petr Mrazek‘s time to shine. Mrazek, 22, is the Red Wings’ top goaltending prospect and will get an early look at being the team’s starting goalie for the next few weeks. The Monster, Jonas Gustavsson, is not ready to play after sustaining a separated shoulder against the Rangers a few months ago.
Mrazek has the mental makeup to be an NHL starter and the talent to make it happen. I’ve been an advocate of that since I saw him play in the 2010 World Junior Tournament. He reminds me of a young Dominik Hasek with his aggressive style of play. He’s got a long way before getting to Dom’s level though.
The Red Wings have Buffalo up next, followed by St. Louis and Nashville. Buffalo, again, and Minnesota round out the schedule before the All-Star break. While the schedule is skewed toward the lighter side with Minnesota and Buffalo, the other two opponents are top teams in the NHL and will truly test Mrazek’s NHL-readiness. Niklas Kronwall and company will need to be on their game for the next five games in front of “Petr Griffin”. Tom McCollum will serve as Mrazek’s backup, but probably won’t see the ice unless something horrible happens.
Let’s see what future starter Petr Mrazek has in store for the Wings as the current starting goalie.