Detroit — The conspicuous difference in the Red Wings play, depending on whether Petr Mrazek or Jimmy Howard is in net, is puckhandling.
Mrazek does it.
Howard occasionally shuns it, and it clearly is not his strong point.
The difference is "huge," Mike Babcock said before the Red Wings' 5-2 defeat of the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
"They're not getting forechecks on you and wearing on your D, because (Mrazek) can play the puck," Babcock said. "It's a real skill set. It's part of his game that we give up less chances with Mrazek in net, because of the way he plays the puck."
Mrazek, who stopped 34 of 36 shots, said the skill is a result of liking to do it, inspiration and training.
"I always like to move the puck, play it behind the net and if it's transferred," he said. "When I stop it, and it's a transfer play, I'm trying to get the game faster, so we are not spending so much time in our zone."
It requires the same sort of practice as other goalie skills, said the 22-year-old rookie, who entered the game with a 1.44 goals against average since taking Jimmy Howard's place on January 10.
"You have to practice, for sure," Mrazek said. "I had great goalie coaches in the Czech Republic, and in juniors in Ottawa, and Jimmy Bedard, as well.
"When you are practicing, then you get used to it and get much confidence in every game."
His inspiration was Martin Brodeur, who has stepped away from the Blues this week to consider the course of his long career.
"Marty Brodeur was outstanding at that," Mrazek said. "Every time I watched him when I was a kid, I watched how he played the puck. I was trying to be like him."
Mrazek said he makes no adjustment to his daily routine, whether he is playing frequently or infrequently.
"You have to do everything the same, and be ready," he said.
Mrazek stopped 34 of 36 Predators shots, Saturday, as the Wings were outshot 36-24.
Howard is expected to return late this month, or early February.
The Wings skated Saturday morning at Joe Louis Arena for the first time in nearly three weeks, following a six-game road trip and with other events in the building.
They were set up for a classic, first-game-back pratfall, albeit against a team playing in back-to-back games.
But they avoided it spectacularly, jumping out to a 3-0 lead at 12:32 of the first period
The phenomenon, not entirely explained, seems to occur in other sports, too. Perhaps especially in baseball.
"It can be tough at times, but you just kind of bear down and get some energy going out there," said Danny DeKeyser, who played in career game 119. "Maybe use the home crowd to your advantage and just try to execute, especially in the first 10 minutes of the first period."
Not facing teams like the Predators and Blues as often as when the Red Wings were in the Western Conference should have no effect, he said.
"Scouting reports are done by the staff on every team, so it really doesn't change the preparation at all," the 24 year-old said. "And those are two teams some of the guys around the room have seen for a lot of years in the other conference."
Sabres at Red Wings
Faceoff: 8 p.m. Sunday, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit