Detroit Red Wings News: Early Playoff Exit?

Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard is in a tough stretch at nearly the worst possible time.  After back-to-back losses at home to the Arizona Coyotes and San José Sharks, Howard has left Mike Babcock turning to back up goaltender Petr Mrazek.  Do the Detroit Red Wings have a goaltending concern heading into the playoffs?

Every player in the NHL goes through tough stretches of play.  When you’re a forward or defenseman you have four teammates out there to help you in a split second.  It’s easier to cover up small mistakes because you aren’t on an island as goaltenders are.  When Jimmy Howard has a bad stretch – and boy were some of these bad – the Detroit Red Wings aren’t going to win many games.

It’s not as if Howard has been terrible all season.  The Detroit Red Wings ninety points place them third in the Atlantic Division, firmly in the playoffs.  The splits on Howard aren’t great but they aren’t awful either (21-12-10, .911 save percentage, 2.45 GAA).  Problem is against his fellow goaltenders, Howard ranks 31st in save percentage and tied for 24th in GAA.  Eek.

So Babcock has turned to Petr Mrazek, whom in his first full season with the Detroit Red Wings is posting similar numbers to Howard (.913 save percentage, 2.52 GAA).  Babcock may be looking to catch lightning in a bottle with Mrazek for a few games and let Howard get some rest and video reps for a different look at his game.

But Babcock’s frustration was clear.  You don’t air out your starting goaltender for no reason and the Detroit Red Wings bench boss publicly jabbed Howard:

Without being asked about who should start the next game, Babcock said: “Pete Mrazek’s gotta get himself ready to go. Get Pete an opportunity here because we need that area fixed.”

Babcock said once they get some confidence in that area the rest of the team can settle down. Detroit Free Press

That’s a bold statement after two games.  Has frustration been growing with Babcock about his goaltending and it just came to a head?  Or is Babcock trying to light a fire under Howard?

Maybe Babcock is feeling the pressure of the Detroit Red Wings potential first round playoff matchup.  If the team is having issues in the crease the last team you want to come calling is the Tampa Bay Lightning. A goaltender on his game wants little part of Steven Stamkos, let alone a struggling one.

For his part, Howard doesn’t see his last two games as a big deal and Mrazek plays the role of good teammate in supporting Howard as the starter.  How much leash will Howard in his next opportunity before Babcock goes full Mike Keenan and yanks him?  If he does, are the Detroit Red Wings in good hands with Petr Mrazek?

Hot goaltenders can steal playoff series and stone cold ones can cost you series.  The Detroit Red Wings don’t care if it’s Howard or Mrazek carrying the load as long as one of them delivers.  If that question isn’t answered quickly the Detroit Red Wings will have more time in April and May to consider the position after the Lightning or Canadiens wipe them out with extreme prejudice.