When the Red Wings square off against the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday, Howard will get the call in goal at a time when picking up points is an absolute must for Detroit. With 17 games remaining in the season, the Red Wings hold only a slight two-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Going with Howard indicates Blashill is willing to ride the hot hand down the stretch in an attempt to stretch Detroit’s post-season streak to 25 seasons.
"I think you're going to go through times in the year where you're playing great and you're going to go through times where the puck's going in,” Blashill told MLive.com’s Ansar Khan of the goaltending choice. “Sometimes it's your fault, sometimes it's situational. Jimmy has played very well. We're going to put him in and hopefully get a win tomorrow night against Columbus.”
Going with Howard when points are so important shouldn’t be all too surprising, though, for anyone who has watched Mrazek perform over the past five weeks, though. Even though he has been one of the better goaltenders in the league this season, his struggles of late have been incredibly evident. On the season, Mrazek is one of the 42 goaltenders who have played at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5, and he’s fared quite well over those minutes. In fact, he ranks eighth in the league with a 5-on-5 save percentage of .937. However, since Feb. 1, Mrazek is among the worst goaltenders in terms of 5-on-5 SP.
Mrazek and Howard are two of the 49 goaltenders to play at least 225 minutes since the start of February, but they’ve performed at two completely different levels. In his 12 appearances since Feb. 1, Mrazek has a 5-on-5 SP of .906, which ranks 41st among those goaltenders. Howard, on the other hand, ranks 14th with a 5-on-5 SP of .934 since the start of February.
Howard has only played four complete games since February began, but he has come into games in relief of Mrazek on two separate occasions, including Sunday in Chicago when Mrazek was pulled midway through the first frame. If you consider his 50 minutes of action a near complete game, Tuesday’s contest will be the first time Howard has played back-to-back games for the Red Wings since Oct. 13 and Oct. 16. He’s earned the Tuesday start, though, for how well he has played as Mrazek’s backup.
"It took a little while to figure out the new role (as backup) and just how to handle everything, how to just play once called upon," Howard told Khan.
Even with Howard starting against the Blue Jackets, Blashill said he still sees Mrazek playing a big part in Detroit’s success over the remainder of the season, calling the Czech netminder an elite goalie. Blashill added having Howard as the backup gives the Red Wings the “luxury” of having two goaltenders the team can be confident in, and Howard echoed those sentiments. Howard also seemed confident Mrazek would regain his form.
"There's a reason why we're both in the NHL, that's because we're both good goalies and we've got good work ethic and we're competitive,” Howard told Khan. “So you go back to trying to have fun."
(All advanced stats via War-On-Ice)