Mrazek proves consistent, despite Sunday's slip-up
Detroit — Wearing the omnipresent hockey player’s toque, or stocking cap, Petr Mrazek walked along the lower concourse in Joe Louis Arena toward the the Red Wings dressing room, striding easily, hands still in pockets from the cold, an image of composed confidence.
“Hi, guys,” he said, to some members of the media, nearby before Sunday's game.
Same as Mrazek ever is: quiet, firm, unemotional, matter-of-fact, assured and respectful.
It was not the sort of game in the Wings’ goal to which he has become accustomed. The Wings won a big one, but he yielded five goals on 22 shots, along the way.
At 11:23 of the second period, the Bruins had four goals on nine shots.
At least two of them came through heavy screens, however, and three were directly off faceoffs the Bruins won cleanly — making things tough on Mrazek.
But on his 24th birthday Sunday, the Ostrava, Czech Republic, native began the day leading the NHL in save percentage, .933, and goals against average, 1.94.
He is the youngest goalie to win 20 games for the Wings since Chris Osgood did it two months after his 23 birthday, 20 seasons ago.
Mrazek is also the youngest of the 13 NHL goalies with 20 wins.
He long ago sealed top billing in goal for the Red Wings with Jimmy Howard appearing in four of 19 games since December 22 after the tandem mostly alternated in the first 36.
Despite Sunday’s exception, Mrazek’s season has been terrifically consistent, especially for the last two months.
“I think where his improvement has come, that’s allowed him to be this type of consistency, is he’s really improved in managing his crease,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said before the game. “He’s done a really good job of winning battles not battling outside the cage, but battling inside the cage.
“I think earlier in his career, and early in his time with us in Grand Rapids, he’d get so competitive, he’d end up outside of the blue area.
“He’s done a really good job of that, and a really good job of fighting to see the puck through traffic, and really a good job of freezing pucks and not allowing too many rebounds.”
Ouellet cracks lineup
At the start of the year, in Grand Rapids, Xavier Ouellet admitted he was a bit taken aback by not playing with the parent club, in Detroit, from the start of the season.
He had to wait until the 56th game to crack the lineup.
“I was a little surprised and, obviously, disappointed not to make it out of training camp,” Ouellet said, in an interview in October. “I definitely thought I would be in Detroit, this year.
“But all I can do is play as well as I can, now.”
He made the AHL All Star team for a second consecutive season, and proved that, like so many prospects for the Wings, he is way over-ripe, toiling in the minors.
“I think you can make the argument that Ouellet coming out of camp was neck-and-neck to being here,” Blashill said.
But Alexey Marchenko cracked the lineup, instead, and has played well.
“What ‘X’ needed to do was to go down and play real good hockey, and great hockey, and put himself in the best position so that when the opportunity came, he was ready to jump through the window.
“I have lots of confidence in ‘X,’ I think he’s a real good player.”
Blashill said he started Ouellet instead of Jakub Kindl, because Ouellet’s game is more like the player he replaced, Jonathan Ericsson.
Kindl replaced Mike Green, before Green returned from his sore groin Friday, because Kindl’s game is more like Green’s, Blashill said.
Red Wings at Islanders
Faceoff: 1 p.m. Monday, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit. 97.1FM, 1270AM
Notable: Red Wings have an abrupt turnaround, after finishing a vigorously played game against the Bruins at about 6:30 p.m., Sunday, the puck drops in Brooklyn at 1 p.m. The Islanders did not play, Sunday. ... The Wings opened their recent home stand February 6 with a 5-1 win against the Islanders, in another win for Petr Mrazek, and on goals by Mike Green, Tomas Jurco, Dylan Larkin, Tomas Tatar and Kyle Quincey.