Wings seek to regain net fortunes

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — The three goaltenders were later than usual returning to the dressing room.

In the wake of allowing 11 goals to the Coyotes and Sharks, they had some extra work to do.

Peeling off his gear, Jimmy Howard sat down in the stool in front of his dressing stall, looked up at the substantial array of media assembled before him and, in his habitual good-natured way, said, "I guess you guys probably want to talk to me."

At the adjacent stall, Petr Mrazek said he intends to improve his occasionally spotty play, starting today against the Lightning. But Howard remains the top goaltender, Mrazek said, despite Mike Babcock saying it is now critical for the Red Wings "to get Petr Mrazek going."

A goaltender controversy usually occurs when a backup presses the regular so hard, the position is at stake.

The Red Wings could use a good goaltender controversy just about now. At least they would be getting better goaltending.

As it is, if either Howard or Mrazek would assert himself, while Jonas Gustavsson continues to recover from his latest injury, it would help stabilize a stumbling team.

It is less about a controversy than the desire to get their season back on track.

And the goaltenders are far from the only problem.

"We keep talking about the same things, over and over," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.

"A lot of the goals, it feels like they started with the puck on our stick. We turn it over. And they got some chances way too easy

"I think if we had a simple answer to it, we would have stopped doing it a long time ago.

"We've just got to make sure that we're ready. When the puck's dropped, we have to be better than we have been.

"That's on me. That's on the rest of us, in here."

But some big saves would help, too.

When goaltenders do well, they often say they are "seeing the puck."

Howard says he is not.

"After going over the videotape and talking to goalie coach Jim Bedard, it's just, you know, following the puck with my eyes," Howard said.

"It's just that simple.

"I think, with a goalie, if you're not following the puck to the best of your abilities, you're not going to defend in that split second. It's going to make a big difference."

Does any of the talk around town about who is No. 1 and No. 1 bother him?

"That doesn't enter my mind, at all," Howard said, his expression revealing some distaste at any thought it might. "Not at all."

Of his approach, now, Howard said, "Just sticking with it, and working hard. That's the only thing that will keep you around in this league, and moving forward.

"You know, it's just a minor hiccup, here, along the way.

"It's just a little blessing in disguise that it's happening right now and not two or three weeks from now."

As they discarded practice gear, Howard and Mrazek shared some private conversation. Any sense there is any tension between the men seemed remote, and likely to fall to the strong Red Wings tradition of established goaltenders helping the younger ones.

What Mike Vernon did for Chris Osgood, Osgood did for Howard. And, now, it is Howard, 31, and Mrazek, 23.

"You know, it's a big challenge," Mrazek said. "We lost two games in a row at home, so going to the third game and starting as goalie is nice.

"But it's just one game, and we've got to go game by game and see what happens."

What about the debate around town concerning who should start?

"I don't think about it," he said. "I know Howie is still likely No. 1, I'm sure. He's proven himself so often for so many years.

"And I think this year, he was great.

"It's just how it is with goalies. Sometimes, when nothing hits you and everything's going in, you just have to follow-up and come back. That's how it is.

"I don't think we should be talking about who is No. 1 goalie. I think that's, for sure, Howie.

"And it's nice to see how he handles the pressure," Mrazek said. "I know that's going to help me, a lot."

Babcock wields precise comments tailored to set the agenda and avoid distractions.

Asked if he would be "comfortable" starting Mrazek in the playoffs, Babcock volleyed deftly.

"I like winning," he said. "That's it.

"So, it's real simple: Everyone knows in the National Hockey League that the best guys play, and if you're playing the best, you get to play.

"That's what our players start each game knowing

"We've got to be way better in the net. We've got to be better in back. We've got to be better up front.

"But, you know, the puck's in our net all the time."