Monday, February 09, 2015

History shows goalie controversies a good rather than bad thing for Detroit Red Wings

Petr Mrazek
Petr Mrazek or Jimmy Howard? Would it be wiser for Red Wings' coach Mike Babcock to stick with the young Mrazek, who has played exceptionally well of late, or put back in veteran Jimmy Howard, who was having one of his best seasons before suffering a fluke groin injury in Washington? ´╗┐´╗┐Ultimately, I still think Howard will be the guy, but would understand if he is feeling a bit like Wally Pipp the day he was off and Lou Gehrig took over for the Yankees for 2,130 games.
Mrazek is intriguing. There have been times his play has been spotty (he's been pulled from two games), but he does have a flair for the dramatic and the big save. Also, he appears better on breakaways and shootouts than Howard.
One way or another, I don't see this as a problem for the Red Wings. Actually, it is a good thing. We saw that in 1996-97, the season the Red Wings finally broke through and won their first Stanley Cup championship in more than four decades. Chris Osgood was the primary goalie during the regular season. He was 10 games above .500, had a save percentage above 91 percent. Mike Vernon was 13-11 with save percentage below 90 percent. Vernon backstopped the Red Wings to the Cup. He had more wins in the playoffs (16) than the regular season. His save percentage was nearly 93 percent and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Coach Scotty Bowman simply rode the hot hand.
Jimmy Howard
A similar situation developed in 2008, the spring of the Red Wings' most recent Stanley Cup championship. Dominik Hasek was supposed to be the guy, and had a pretty good season despite injury issues, but Chris Osgood had a slightly better one. Hasek started the playoffs, struggled against Nashville, and, with the series tied two games, apiece Babcock didn't hesitate to change to Osgood, who had been re-acquired essentially off the NHL's scrap heap to be a backup a couple seasons before. Like Bowman before him, Babcock didn't make it complicated. He simply played the hot hand. He undoubtedly will do the same with Mrazek and Howard.
I wouldn't sell Howard short. He has done well in the playoffs more times than not. He is a little more fundamentally sound than Mrazek at this stage when it comes to squaring up to the puck, although not nearly the same puckhandler.
But it's a real simple case of may "the best goalie win." And in this case, it greatly increases the Red Wings' prospects of winning collectively.

My column. Why the Red Wings have the best chance to bring home Detroit's next Stanley Cup Championship:

My column. Why there is no silver lining in the cloud of Victor Martinez's knee injury:

My column. Let's not pretend Jim Harbaugh's first recruiting class at Michigan wasn't disappointing:


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