Detroit is set to open up it’s preseason tonight in an Original Six match up against the Boston Bruins. Both teams are looking to bounce back from poor showings last season, as neither made the 2017 playoffs. A question that has been swirling among Detroit throughout the summer and into the fall has been the fate of it’s goalies: Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek, and Jared Coreau. Today I want to take a look at each netminder, how they performed last year, and what to look for this year as we march toward the start of the regular season.
Let us begin with the true veteran of the bunch: Jimmy Howard. Last season started off extremely promising for the New York native, with a 4-2-0 record through six games and a save percentage (SV%) of .961. Unfortunately for Howard and the Wings, in his 16 remaining starts last season he would only get six more wins. By season’s end Howard’s stats were as follows: a 10-11-1 record, goals allowed average (GAA) of 2.10, and a SV% of .927. Aside from the record, those are fantastic numbers which ranked in at 3rd and 2nd respectively by the end of last year, granted he didn’t play as many games as the other goaltenders ranked that high. Most of Howard’s losses were due to his offensive unit not scoring goals while he was on the ice, and his defensemen contributed to Howard’s greatest weakness: injury. One could argue that Howard is a glass cannon. When he is healthy, good luck getting the puck by number 35. However, numerous injuries during the last two seasons have severely limited his playing time, which can partially be blamed by his defense not protecting him. Last season in Tamp Bay, Howard was taken out by Nick Jensen and a Tampa skater when Jensen failed to contain his man, which led to the collision that sidelined Howard for three months. Detroit needs to give Howard proper defensive and offensive support, and allow him to focus on stopping pucks instead of dodging players. Howard’s main goal should be continuing the same level of play from last season while staying healthy. Keeping rebounds away from the slot, and continued work against screens should also be areas for him to target. I would look for him to be our starter out of the gate, especially after the fiasco that Mrazek had this offseason.
Speaking of Mrazek, time to change gears and discuss the young Czech netminder. Petr had many people thinking that he was the future of the Red Wings prior to last season, but now the fan base and front office seem unsure. After this season he will be a restricted free agent, so Mrazek is going to have to rebound big time to earn another deal with Detroit and win back support. In what was essentially his second year as a starter (due to Howard’s injuries) Mrazek finished with a 18-21-9 record, 3.04 GAA, and a .901 SV%. The SV% and GAA are simply abysmal when compared to the rest of the eligible goalies, both ranked 46th out of 48. Together with the assumed friction between Petr and the organization, unprotected during the expansion draft and past contract struggles, it’s safe to say his future is unclear. What Mrazek needs most is to find his consistency and to slooooooow down. Far too many goals were due to him overcommitting to the shooter, or from him being out of control in the crease. Aggressive goaltenders like Mrazek rely on two things: sound judgement and good defensemen to back them up. Last year, both were lacking. It’s time for him to take a deep breath and get back in control. A fresh start and a new season will do wonders for the young man, as there is still reason to believe that he can return to top tier status. Mrazek will be going up against Howie for the starting role, but he will have to be impressive to earn take the starters job away. Now, about a certain Calder Cup winner…
As we know too well from the last couple of seasons injuries have plagued our goaltenders, but this opened the door for Jared Coreau to break into the NHL. The Ontario native is by far the largest of the three men, standing at 6’6″ and weighing in at 210 lbs. Coreau was best known for his work in Grand Rapids before being called up last season once Howard went down. Upon returning to the Griffins, Coreau was vital during their Calder Cup Championship playoff run. Now he is playing preseason hockey with Detroit in an attempt to make the team. In 14 starts last season he had a record of 5-4-3, 2 shutouts, a 3.46 GAA, and a .887 SV%. I would be hypocritical if I didn’t bash his number like I did Petr’s, and it’s true that they were awful. The 2 shutouts are intriguing to me however, as well as how Coreau started the Centennial Classic over Mrazek. Sure, he only had 5 wins, but being called up mid season from the AHL to the NHL is going to be a hard transition for the best goalie on playoff teams. Now consider the state of the Red Wings last season, and that record starts to make a little more sense. Excusable? No. Understandable? Yes. The potential is there for Coreau, if he makes improvements to his side-to-side speed and eliminates the sloppy goals that plagued him last season, both in Detroit and Grand Rapids. One problem could arise for both Coreau and his supporters though: should he fail to make the team during preseason, he will have to clear waivers to remain in our system. The only teams in my mind that would possibly show interest would be the Canucks, Flames, and possibly the Flyers. Even then, many would consider that wishful thinking after Coreau’s showing last season. This scenario is most likely to play out, as I just don’t see Coreau taking a roster spot away from Mrazek, and certainly not Howard, once the preseason concludes.
Unfortunately for Detroit there is no easy solution to the goaltending situation, just as there is no easy solution on how to make this team playoff contenders again. The only way it’s going to happen is by hard work, young talent, and veteran grit. Howard, Mrazek, and even Coreau to an extent will be pivotal to this season. If Howard and Mrazek can return to form then the Red Wings may end up with a respectable inaugural season at Little Caesars Arena. With a fair amount of luck and some breakout performances, we might even make a run for a wild card spot. For now though, we just have to focus on getting better and taking games one at a time. As of now, expect Howard and Mrazek to be your Red Wings’ tandem, and for Howard to man the crease in our first regular season game.
Special thanks to Diane Woodring, as all photos are used with her permission. Stats were obtained from NHL.com.