Mrazek, Wings look for third straight win
The Detroit Red Wings finished their long road trip without Jimmy Howard and, apparently, without much need for him given the play of Petr Mrazek.
The Nashville Predators hope to find the same dynamic following the injury to Pekka Rinne.
Mrazek and the Red Wings will look for their third straight win Saturday night when they host a Nashville team seeking a sixth consecutive victory in a battle of backup goaltenders (6:30 p.m. pregame, 7 p.m. face-off on FOX Sports Detroit PLUS).
Detroit (24-11-9) beat Buffalo on Tuesday and edged St. Louis 3-2 in overtime Thursday without Howard, who suffered a groin injury on Jan. 10 and will be sidelined at least through the All-Star break. In the meantime, the 22-year-old Mrazek has proven himself more than capable with two wins and a 1.44 goals against average over his past two starts.
With both Howard and Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder) out, the upcoming stretch for Mrazek should mark his first extended stint as an NHL starter. He owned a 1.80 GAA in 11 total appearances over the last two seasons, and has a 2.13 GAA in 11 starts in 2014-15.
"Mrazek, I thought he played really good," coach Mike Babcock told Detroit’s official site following Thursday’s victory. "He’s got to find his game at this level. You’ve got to give the kid credit; he made some big saves tonight, he didn’t over-challenge."
Nashville (30-9-4) enters Saturday’s contest in a similar situation to Detroit after Rinne sustained a sprained knee Tuesday that will cause him to miss three to five weeks. Carter Hutton performed admirably in relief of Rinne on Tuesday to secure Nashville’s win over Vancouver, and then stopped 31 shots in a 4-3 victory over Washington on Friday.
"I’m happy for a guy like that who plays behind Pekka but battles every day," James Neal told Nashville’s official site. "A lot of people don’t see how hard he works."
Rinne missed a good portion of last season as well, giving plenty of playing time to both Hutton and temporary backup Marek Mazanec, who was recalled from Milwaukee of the AHL on Thursday. Hutton posted a 2.62 GAA in 34 starts, while Mazanec performed even worse, tallying a 2.80 GAA in 22 starts.
Both netminders will need to show improvement in order to continue Nashville’s trend of strong defensive play this season. The Predators have held the opposition to two or fewer goals in 27 of 43 games and are 24-2-1 in those contests.
That stellar play, highlighted by the NHL’s fewest goals surrendered (2.19 per game), has allowed Nashville plenty of leeway in the standings during Rinne’s absence. The Predators, who are tied with Anaheim atop the NHL standings with 64 points, seek their first six-game win streak since March 2011.
"Anytime you lose your best player it’s tough," forward Mike Fisher said of Rinne. "But I know he’s going to work hard. He’s been through the injury deal …, and he’ll be working hard to get back and as a team we’re going to have to step it up and be better."
Nashville won both meetings against Detroit last season, getting three points apiece from Fisher and Colin Wilson in a 6-4 victory on Dec. 30, 2013.
Pavel Datsyuk, who scored in that loss, has five goals and 10 assists in his last 10 games against the Predators.