Detroit — At the start of the season, it looked like Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek might start about every third game.
Jeff Blashill would not answer specifically in early October when asked about his strategy, after Jimmy Howard regained the No. 1 spot last season. Blashill would only say he had a plan.
Mrazek started the third, fifth and eighth games.
But in the next 32 games, the 25 year-old goalie, now in his fourth season, started only four games before starting Sunday instead of the injured Jimmy Howard.
Howard is having one of the best of his eight seasons for the Red Wings, who expect him to return next weekend.
As for Mrazek, it is probably not the year he expected even after the Red Wings decided not to protect him in NHL expansion draft in the offseason.
It has been tough to get going. He entered play Sunday with a 3.64 goals against average and .892 save percentage. He made 19 saves on Tampa Bay's 24 shots in the loss to the Lightning but did not play poorly against the powerful Lightning.
Mrazek’s numbers ballooned when he yielded five goals in consecutive starts against the Flames and Canadiens — Nov. 9 and Dec. 2.
“I didn’t play for a while, but I try staying in shape and work hard on the ice for anytime I’ve got to go,” Mrazek said, after the morning skate.
Blashill said he is playing the players he believes gives the Red Wings the best shot at winning games and making the playoffs.
“As a coach, you’re trying to put the guys out there that give you the best chance to win that night, and certainly the way Jimmy’s played he’s earned that opportunity to keep going.
“I don’t think that's a knock on Petr, at all.”
Blashill lauded Mrazek’s preparation and patience.
“He knew he was coming in behind Jimmy to start, based on the performance of last year,” the coach said. “When you hit that type of adversity, a lot of times it allows you to grow as a person.
“I think Petr’s showing a great deal of maturity in his work ethic, he’s shown a great deal of maturity in his approach starting this summer and leading into how he’s approached practice,” the coach said. “And I think he’s worked hard to put himself in a position to be successful.”
Howard is day-to-day after suffering up a lower-body injury.
While the Red Wings will check again on Thursday, general manager Ken Holland said he anticipates Howard playing next weekend.
The Wings return to action after the mandatory five-day bye period to play the Penguins and Blackhawks on the road.
Blashill said Howard sustained the injury in the second period of Friday’s win over the Panthers.
Video of the first Panthers goal shows Howard hit in the crease by an opposing forward, then seeming to grimace behind his mask as he skates away.
“Jimmy was injured in the second period and was able to play the third and finish the game,” Blashill said. “He seemed to be good in the third. It didn’t affect anything long-term or anything whatsoever.
“Our doctors felt 100 percent comfortable with playing. Our trainers felt 100 percent comfortable with playing.
The Red Wings recalled goalie Jared Coreau from Grand Rapids to back-up Mrazek.