Red Wings' Mrazek vows to be ready as Howard's fill-in

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Buffalo, N.Y. — They started the season together in Grand Rapids, and actually have been the Griffins' goaltending tandem for the past two seasons, but Monday they were on the ice at First Niagara Center wearing Red Wings practice jerseys.

And in the locker room, Petr Mrazek and Tom McCollum sat side by side and talked and laughed comfortably, like longtime teammates would.

With Jimmy Howard (groin) and Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder) unavailable temporarily, Mrazek and McCollum are the Red Wings' goaltenders.

"It's nice to be together again," Mrazek said of his old goalie partner. "It doesn't matter where it is, here or Grand Rapids. We're going to try to win games."

That responsibility, the winning games part, mainly will fall into Mrazek's lap, as he'll be the No. 1 man on the depth chart with Howard out of the lineup after injuring his groin Saturday in Washington.

Mrazek, 22, has looked every bit the NHL-level goalie many have thought he'd become since filling in for Gustavsson, after Gustavsson separated his shoulder Nov. 5 at the New York Rangers.

With a 5-3-1 record, a 2.29 goals-against average and .916 save percentage, Mrazek has filled in admirably while giving Howard a breather.

Over the span of three seasons with the Red Wings, while being called up from Grand Rapids at various times, Mrazek has an NHL record of 8-8-1 record (2.03 GAA, .921 SVS).

But now it'll be Mrazek being the nightly starter.

"If you're playing every night, or every three or four games, it doesn't matter, you have to be ready," Mrazek said. "It doesn't matter. You have to be mentally strong. If you let in any bad goals, you have to be mentally strong and stay patient."

The Red Wings, and many scouts around the NHL, always have felt Mrazek had the demeanor, confidence and physical ability to be successful in the NHL.

Mrazek handles the puck well, and plays with a brashness at times that gives teammates reason to believe in him.

With Mrazek in net, don't expect any significant changes in terms of style or schemes around the Red Wings.

"Every time Pete has been played, he's been playing real good," captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "He plays with confidence. The way he plays the puck. Obviously we want Howie to come back as soon as possible, but Petr will do the job in the meantime."

Zetterberg made mention of Mrazek's ability to handle the puck after Wednesday's victory in Calgary, in which Mrazek earned the win.

"He plays the puck unbelievable," Zetterberg said. "He reads the plays real well. It's fun to have him back there. We know he plays 60 minutes and he's going to give a chance to win."

Both Mrazek and coach Mike Babcock view this as an excellent opportunity for Mrazek to show everyone he can play regularly in the NHL and show people his time is now, and not several years away.

"It's a great opportunity but it's going to be the same (as always)," Mrazek said. "I have to battle and play hard and do the best I can."

Babcock wants Mrazek to be composed and play to his ability.

"He has an opportunity to establish himself," Babcock said. "The biggest thing is being calm and poised, and don't worry about what goes in. Worry about the next save. To me, that's what the best goalies do.

Tuesday's start against Buffalo will be special for Mrazek, a native of the Czech Republic, who'll start opposite fellow Czech Michal Neuvirth on the evening former Sabres and Red Wings Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek, another Czech, will have his No. 39 retired by the Sabres.

"That was my hero growing up," Mrazek said. "It'll be special for everyone in here who played with him.

"I never met Dom. It's going to be my first time (meeting Hasek). He was special. He played with a definite style. When we were younger and playing on the streets or playing outside for fun, we were either Hasek or Jaromir Jagr (another Czech legend)."