Petr Mrazek's exit gives Red Wings a headache

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
New Jersey Devils center Adam Henrique collides with Detroit Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek during the third period. Mrazek was removed from the game.

Detroit — Petr Mrazek said afterward that he felt just fine, and that while he experienced no pain in his head after a crease-crashing incident in which the Red Wings received a big break from the referees, he did have a little trouble breathing when he got the wind knocked out of him.

The Wings removed Mrazek officially at 6:12 of the third period of Saturday night's loss to the Devils, at the behest of NHL officials, and Jimmy Howard finished the game.

It was Mrazek’s first start since Nov. 9 against the Flames and just the third since Oct. 20 against the Capitals.

Adam Henrique put the puck in the net and ran into Mrazek in the crease, after Jonathan Ericsson checked the Devils forward into the goalie. Referees immediately waved off the goal and sent Henrique to the penalty box for interference on the goalkeeper.

A lucky break for the Red Wings, since it was Ericsson’s check that sent Henrique into Mrazek, ended up costing them their starting goalie minutes later.

After trainer Piet Van Zant went out on the ice and visited a prone Mrazek in his crease, the Wings left the goalie in. It was NHL concussion officials who appeared at the Red Wings bench, talked to Van Zant and subsequently ordered Mrazek pulled.

“I felt good after that hit, though,” Mrazek said of his intention to remain on the ice. “I just couldn’t breathe.”

After having the wind knocked out of him, Mrazek remained on the ice, yielded the third Devils goal and then was ordered to bench.

“Yeah, the guys told me it took them a little bit to figure out I needed to be pulled, and then there was no whistle,” Mrazek said.

As usual, the goalie appeared utterly unflustered.

“It’s the rule,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, but admitting that he would have preferred to continue to play.

“When they scored, I saw some guys and I saw (Blashill) saying I had to go out, because of the head,” Mrazek said.

“I thought my game was starting to get better, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Blashill seemed uncomfortable with how the situation played out.

“It’s an interesting process,” the coach said. “I’ve seen it a couple of different ways. I’ve seen it where they call to the (penalty) box and blow the horn.

“This one came to our trainer, and that is a real odd spot to put our trainer in, to be honest with you.

“And Piet comes to me, and it’s way after the collision, and he says: ‘You know, he’s got to come out.’ And we were trying to get the refs’ attention. We couldn’t get the refs’ attention.”

It all took some time, Blashill said.

“It was actually the whistle before he was scored on. And then he gets scored on, and now he’s got to come out.

“I get it,” Blashill said. “We want to protect players, and obviously concussions are a tough deal. There is no easy solution though, in this thing. That’s for sure.”

Youth revolution

Devils coach John Hynes is skating one of the youngest lineups in the NHL, as GM Ray Shero assembled a roster that includes eight players under the age of 23.

The Devils, who missed the playoffs last season along with the Red Wings, look considerably improved.

After beating the Wings 4-3 in overtime Saturday, they are 14-5-4 on the season and vying with the Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

They have seven more points than the Red Wings in the conference.

What is going so well in New Jersey, and how are they managing to rebuild suddenly?

“Whenever you have a young team or lots of new players in general, it’s coming in before the season starts and really understanding what is our mission statement and what is our identity going to be,” Hynes said.

“What are our expectations going to be of what we want to be, both on and off the ice? That was step one.

“Establishing the work ethic that we need and the style that we need to play, as a group, was clearly laid out.”

Then as the older players help drive home the disciplined approach to playing like professionals early in the season, things have come together, he said.

“The second part of it really coming together as a team, but being more than a team. Being a brotherhood, where guys get to know each other away from the rink and who we are as people,” Hynes said.

“I think forming those bonds particularly with younger players and lots of new players is important.”

Mantha raising his level

Anthony Mantha scored his 11th goal Saturday, and now has 20 points in 24 games.

Blashill said he thought Mantha played a fine game.

“He was excellent,” Blashill said, cutting off a questioner before he could finish the question. “He was excellent tonight. One of the best players on the ice.”

The head coach liked the line of Dylan Larkin and Tomas Tatar, with Mantha.

“Larkin, him and Tats created tons of chances. I thought he was excellent tonight.”

Blashill surprised some observers when after the game against the Oilers Wednesday he said Mantha would have to play “way better.”

But count Mantha among the unsurprised. Mantha said he knew he had to be better.

And an improved performance showed in his ice time against the Devils.

Only Larkin (21:09) and Henrik Zetterberg (20:09) among forwards played more than Mantha (19:36).