Krupa: There’s no reason to change goaltending platoon

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Some folks think the Red Wings absolutely must settle on a top goalie or they will harm their performance, diminish hopes for the playoffs and decrease the possibility of accomplishing their ultimate goal: a deeper run than in recent playoffs past.

The goalies do not think so.

Coach Jeff Blashill says it is not necessarily so.

Meanwhile, Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard continue to share the load almost equally, with Mrazek starting his 17th game against the Sabres Monday, after Howard’s 14th on Friday.

Why would the Red Wings want to change, given the success of the platooning? If they are fortunate enough to have Mrazek and Howard performing this well through the remainder of the season, why would they change it, at all?

If the quality of the two performances continues, two goalies would be poised for strong play in the playoffs, suggesting at least a possibility both might start then, too.

Perplexing? For some in the fan base, with social media and talk radio as indicators, it evidently is.

It should not be.

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It is working and likely to continue. The days of ironmen goaltending are mostly gone, and the frequent injuries in the NHL dictate the considerable benefit of having two going well, simultaneously.

“Yeah, I’m pretty comfortable with that,” Mrazek said, when asked about the possibility of playing an approximately even number of games with Howard, until the end of the season.

“We’re playing lots of games back to back, so the schedule is busy. So, I think the rotating, you know, it’s a good thing.”

Their answers to questions throughout the season, their attitudes and their body language on the ice, the bench and around the dressing room all indicate the relationship between the goalies is good.

It seems to be that way, man-to-man, too.

“He is my friend,” Mrazek said, when asked about the situation.

And the look on his face said it all: How could anyone think otherwise?

“Yeah, we are good friends together and we are pushing hard to be better at every practice, and in every game.”

For Howard, who averaged 56 starts through his six seasons as the Red Wings’ No. 1 goalie, the current arrangement suggests more like about 38, in his first while platooning.

If that bothers Howard, it is impossible for observers to discern. And he asserts it most certainly does not.

“Yeah, it’s going well, so no reason to change it,” Howard said.

“I mean, if anyone out there is trying to create a rift between us, it’s going to be pretty difficult.

“We have a pretty good friendship. I don’t know if people realize that, or not. But, you know, we even sit with each other on the plane.

“We’re probably a lot closer than people know.

“It’s working for us, right now. It’s working for the team. So that’s what’s most important.”

Meanwhile, Howard knows how it is supposed to work in Detroit. Mike Vernon was a mentor to Chris Osgood. Chris Osgood was a mentor to Jimmy Howard.

Now, Howard is the older guy, and “the kid” is pretty darned good.

“I’m 31 years old now,” Howard said, with a laugh. “It seems like just the other day I was learning from Ozzie.

“It’s fun. That’s a different aspect of it all.”

Depth more important

Blashill says the goalie situation is strong. But does he think it is better to have a designated top goalie?

“That part I can’t answer,” said the former junior and collegiate goalie. “I think every situation’s different based on your team, based on your players.

“I’ve had guys carry the mail, a little bit. I’ve had multiple guys going.

“What I think is: Organizationally and as a team, it’s always better to have great depth at each position. And part of that, within this team, is to keep both of those guys going when they are playing so well.

“And there’s a little bit of mental rest, when you don’t have to go every night. I’m sure there’s arguments the other way.

“But bottom line is, we want to get great goaltending. I think we have through the early part of this season, and we need to continue to if we want to be a team that continues to stay up at the top part of the standings.”

Statistics comparable

Mrazek certainly looks faster, especially laterally, in the crease. But Howard remains sound as a positional goalie.

Howard is performing nearly as well as last season, albeit in fewer games, and he was an all-star a year ago. But Mrazek has started three more games and regularly drawn the tougher back ends of the back-to-back games.

Both have allowed a scarcity of bad goals, but Mrazek has been a bit leakier, just recently.

The statistics are utterly comparable.

No controversy here, despite an intense desire for one, in some quarters. Play them both, until something changes.

If nothing changes, good.