Wings turn to red-hot Mrazek again

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Coach Mike Babcock will keep going with the hot goalie for another game.

Jimmy Howard (slight groin tear) is apparently ready to play, but Babcock said he'll start red-hot Petr Mrazek Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Mrazek (13-4-1, 2.42 goals-against average, .914 save percentage) has started all 10 games since Howard was injured Jan. 10 in Washington and won eight of them (the Red Wings are 9-1-0 in that stretch).

"Pete, if I'm not my mistaken, is winning," Babcock said. "That's what we've always done here, we're trying to win all the games. What we're doing with Howie is, he gets a full week of practice, gets bumped and knocked around in practice, and gets a good opportunity to prepare, and probably have an opportunity to play on Saturday (against Winnipeg).

"Howie is our starting goaltender. There's nothing wrong with practice. We like to win games We play the guy who is winning the games."

Howard will back up Mrazek in Pittsburgh.

With Jonas Gustavsson also now available — he returned from a shoulder injury last week — the Red Wings will carry three goalies, at least for Wednesday's game.

The news caught Mrazek off guard.

"It is a surprise, but playing Pittsburgh will be a fun game," said Mrazek, who isn't concerning himself with the prospect of possibly heading back to Grand Rapids after Wednesday. "I'm just worrying about Wednesday's game. I don't think about anything else or what migiht happen. I can't do anything about it."

Howard had a net to himself during Monday's practice, didn't alternate with anyone, and completed the practice feeling fine.

"I felt great out there, felt real good," Howard said. "Like anything else, it's your timing (which Howard will be working on). You're trying to find your rhythm. That's what I'll do in practice.

"The guys have been doing awesome. Petr has been playing fantastic for us, giving us a chance to win every single night and have the guys have been taking advantage of that."

Wings have swagger

The Red Wings are a confident team after winning nine of 10 games, but realize there are sure to be stumbling blocks along the way.

"We're getting contributions from everyone, we're not relying on certain guys night in and night out," Howard said. "There's a swagger about the team. When things are going right, you've earned to have your confidence up. This place is oozing with confidence and we just have to keep that going.

"There will be some bumps along the way, but we have to keep them few and far between."

What has been impressive during the successful stretch is the way the Red Wings have won games on nights when they're not playing their best.

"You have to find ways to win and that's something we've been able to do that," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "We haven't played great all games, but we've been able to find ways to win."

There are three goalies on the roster, defenseman Xavier Ouellet and forward Teemu Pulkkinen are in Grand Rapids and unable to crack the Red Wings roster, and several other minor leagues aren't too far away from the NHL.

All of which points to the incredible internal competition for jobs and playing time there is currently with the Red Wings.

Babcock believes the competition is a positive development, and shows the most depth the Red Wings have had since 2009.

"It's one of the great things to create a winning environment is competition for jobs and accountability," Babcock said. "It's great to say you have it, but most teams don't have it. We've worked hard to create it again. That's why (general manager) Kenny (Holland) is so patient with all his assets. He wants a lot of them. The more you have, the better chance you have."