It's clear that the Red Wings have hit a speed bump in terms of goaltending. Some may refer to it as a "controversy," others would call it a "healthy competition." Is this a bad thing? No, not necessarily. Intra-team competition will undoubtedly bring the best out of players, coaches, and the entire team as a whole.
Before the game against Ottawa on Tuesday, an article had surfaced from Yahoo's Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) which dished up on the goalie situation in Detroit. As always, it was a great piece by Nick, stocked full of quotes from Jimmy Howard, Jim Bedard, and other parts of the Red Wings brass.
We all know the issue at hand right now, Jimmy Howard has hit an impasse as the number-one goalie on the team. He had a rough month in March, and it seemed like things just couldn't go in his favor. At the end of it all, Jimmy found himself benched, watching 23-year-old rookie goaltender Petr Mrazek taking the starting job... Temporarily.
"It’s not mental, like, confidence-wise or anything like that," Howard said. "It’s keeping your eye on the puck at all times and not losing sight of it."
Howard is a very humble person, but I think he might be beating around the bush here. After watching him play this month, I can very much tell you that a part of this is mental, and it's not all a matter of "keeping my eye on the puck." Just looking at the way he has played tells the story. The life of a goaltender isn't so easy, when you're hot, you're hot, and when you're not, get the hell out of there. There was a part of Cotsonika's article that really stood out to me, and kind of opened my eyes to what might be weighing Jimmy down right now..
After the morning skate Tuesday, Howard took off his equipment a few feet from a media scrum surrounding Babcock. He listened as reporters peppered the coach with questions about the goaltending situation – as one reporter asked Babcock if he was surprised "not really having a No. 1 goalie with seven games left."
Any way you cut it, that's a brutal thing to sit and witness as a goalie. Howard has been the number one guy for quite some time now, and since he's hit a slump it seems like media, coaching, and fans are doing their fair share of scrutinizing. Let me be clear - I'm certainly not saying that it is wrong to dispute a goalie controversy, after all Jimmy did have a combined save percentage of .750 against Arizona and San Jose. What I'm trying to say is that if this is mental, sitting at your locker and listening to the media spit fire about how the team is entering the playoffs without a true number one goalie certainly is not helping anything.
There's no denying that the month of March was completely dismal for the Detroit Red Wings, and while the team hasn't been up-to-par by any means, they had quite a few games where they were scoring, but they couldn't keep the puck out of their own net. Letting up five goals to Arizona (a team who is the race for Connor McDavid, and Jack Eichel,) six goals against San Jose (a team who is on the outside looking in,) and five goals to the slumping New York Islanders, there's no doubt that goaltending needs to be much better. During that slump, Detroit scored 16 goals in four games, but had a record of 1-2-1. Defense certainly has had it's issues, but the problem is that they haven't had consistency from their net-minders.
The Red Wings dropped a crucial game to Ottawa on Tuesday night after playing extremely poorly the entire game, which inevitably ended up in a shootout loss. No doubt, the team should be thankful for the point, but if it wasn't for a brilliant effort by Petr Mrazek, that game could have gotten much uglier.
Despite Petr Mrazek being great, he still has a short leash. He's still young, and is prone to rookie mistakes. I'm not convinced that he can hold down the fort, which seems to be under complete siege right now. The Red Wings need Jimmy Howard to get back up on the pony. Having a goalie like Mrazek around can benefit this, because of competition. With Petr Mrazek confirmed to be a full-time Wing next year, having a goalie like him will challenge Jimmy Howard, and motivate him to be his best.
He didn’t back down, either.
"You have to deliver this time of the year," Howard said. "Those two games, I didn’t. When my number’s called again, I will be out there, and I will play …"
"And I will be good."
Goalie controversy? I like to think of it more as "healthy competition." Petr makes Howard better by challenging him, and Howard being the bonafide starter for this team challenges Petr to want it more. So, short-term, things don't look great.. But longterm, I really like the tandem that we have. Not many teams have this, and we should be counting our blessings as a fan base. Jimmy Howard is Babcock's guy as he has stated before, but Babcock isn't going to put him out there if he's slumping. You play the hot hand, and that's exactly what they're doing right now. Can Petr Mrazek carry this team through the playoffs? Maybe, maybe not. Can Jimmy Howard do it? Maybe, maybe not. The fact is that Detroit's goaltending is indeed collapsing. Neither Mrazek or Howard are as bad as their stats show in the month of March, but the fact of the matter is that Detroit are not going to make it far in the playoffs with a save percentage that is hovering around .900.
Quotes from Nick Cotsonika's article on Yahoo.