As the Detroit Red Wings look to make up ground in their pursuit of a 26th consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, there’s one element of the game that they know they desperately need.
“You don’t win in this league without elite goaltending,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said.
On Saturday, the Red Wings got that in a 1-0 road win over the Nashville Predators, as Petr Mrazek stopped a season-high 42 shots for his first shutout of the 2016-17 campaign.
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“He made some unbelievable saves,” Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “He was comfortable in net, he played the puck well, and we’re glad he got rewarded with a shutout.”
The season has been a struggle for Mrazek, who is 12-12-5 with a 3.08 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. But he’s won his last two starts, the first time he’s accomplished a two-game winning streak since Dec. 4-6.
“It’s a lot easier to win games if you don’t have to score that many goals,” Zetterberg said. “We always knew he’s a good goalie. We’ve seen that and we believe in him.”
Blashill felt that Mrazek had been moving in the right direction for a few games prior to Saturday’s stellar performance.
“I think for a good number, I’d say well over a month, he’s worked hard at his game,” Blashill said. “I think it’s showed at times. I think he looks a lot of times like the Petr that we’ve seen here that’s been an elite goalie in this league.
“We need a goalie to get hot and go on a run and certainly Petr’s extremely capable of that.”
Taking into consideration Detroit’s upcoming schedule, quality goaltending will be a required element if the Red Wings intend to enjoy any sort of success.
It starts Tuesday as they play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets. A three-game road trip ensues, with stops at Washington (Thursday), Columbus (Saturday) and Minnesota (Sunday), giving the Wings four straight games against the NHL’s top three teams.
“This is a real tough week, starting with tomorrow,” Detroit forward Steve Ott said Monday. “We’re going to be against some really good teams but we just beat a really good team in Nashville.”
Ott, out since Jan. 3 with a shoulder injury, was activated from the injured list Monday, while center Frans Nielsen (upper body injury) was placed on injured reserve. Both Nielsen and defenseman Niklas Kronwall (lower body) are listed as day to day and are expected to miss at least the next two games.
Columbus coach John Tortorella cautioned his team about taking the Red Wings lightly, pointing to Saturday’s 5-1 loss to New Jersey as a possible sign of what can happen when a team overlooks the opposition.
“My question is — and I don’t have the answer, (the players) are the only ones who can answer it — was it a lack of respect for the opponent?” Tortorella told the Columbus Post-Dispatch.