By Allan Muir
Eight was enough for Dick van Patten. Probably enough for Jimmy Howard, too.
Howard looked the part of an overworked goalkeeper in Detroit’s 4-1 loss to Calgary on Tuesday night. Outside of a big stop on Jarome Iginla’s penalty shot bid, he wasn’t sharp in his ninth straight start, struggling in particular to control his rebounds.
“Obviously, [Howard] has been getting too much [work],” Detroit coach Mike Babcock told Ansar Khan of mlive.com. “He’s played great for us, but we’re giving up too much the last couple [games], so [we need to ] get him freshened up.”
That meant a day off practice on Wednesday, but with Joey McDonald nursing the aftereffects of a back injury and Jonas Gustavsson’s groin woes still lingering, it looked like Howard would have to man up for tonight’s battle with the St. Louis Blues.
Enter Petr Mrazek.
The 20-year-old Czech, a fifth-round pick in 2010, has made an incredible journey over the past year. After being named the tournament’s top goaltender at the 2012 World Juniors, he’s skated for the Ottawa 67s (OHL), Toledo Walleye (ECHL) and Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL). He earned a call-up to Detroit after being named the AHL’s Goalie of the Week. Mrazek was the winning goalie in the league’s All-Star Game last Monday, then stopped 53 of 54 shots to beat Hamilton 5-1 and Abbotsford 1-0. With Howard needing a breather, the coaching staff called on the hot hand.
“He’s been the berries everywhere he’s been,” Babcock said Thursday. “Let’s watch him.”
Throwing him out against the Blues, a team that whipped Detroit 6-0 on opening night and is coming off a humiliating 6-1 loss to the Predators on Tuesday, might seem cruel.
Mrazek’s not worried.
“I’m never nervous,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “I will go out there and play my best and enjoy every minute on the ice.”
Wings fans should love him. He’s an emotional player and he’ll get demonstrative after he makes a big stop.
And then there’s that amazing helmet.
Win or lose, Mrazek is likely to be back on the bench Saturday as Detroit takes on the Oilers. But this is another chance for the youngster to make a strong statement about his potential.
He hasn’t muffed many of those lately.