Having two capable goaltenders is a problem any hockey coach would welcome with open arms.
And that’s exactly the situation the Detroit Red Wings find themselves in this season.
Between Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, it’s difficult to define one as the starter and the other as his backup. The two goaltenders resemble more of a 1-A, 1-B duo, having the potential to stifle opponents on any given night.
With four back-to-back sets of games in October and 12 more throughout the remainder of the season, having two starter-caliber goaltenders could really help the Red Wings, who are in pursuit of their 25th straight playoff appearance.
Howard started last season as Detroit’s No. 1 goaltender, going 16-7-7 with a save percentage of .921 through the first half of the season. But just an hour after being named to the All-Star Game, he was sidelined for more than a month with a groin injury.
In his place, the rookie, Mrazek, didn’t skip a beat. And Howard, unable to return to his first-half form, lost the starting job.
Fast forward five months, and the pair entered the 2015-16 season with a competition on their hands.
Both were impressive during the preseason. Howard posted a 3-0 record and .942 save percentage, and Mrazek went 2-0-1 with .939 save percentage.
The goaltenders didn’t make it easy on coach Jeff Blashill to name an opening-night starter, but the veteran, Howard, ultimately got the nod.
He promptly got off to a fast start, shutting out the Toronto Maple Leafs and former Wings coach Mike Babcock, and appeared to be back in midseason form.
“It didn’t finish the way he wanted to finish (last year), “ Blashill said. “But I also remember the first half of the year, when he was real good and picked to be an All-Star, and I think he’s back in that form. I think this is what Jimmy is, this is what Jimmy has proven over the longevity of his career, and I think he’s done a real good job.”
Mrazek started the following night in Carolina, also earning a win in his first start.
Although Howard’s opening-night start essentially made Mrazek the backup, neither goaltender has truly separated from the other through nine games.
With 73 games left on the schedule, there’s still plenty of time for either Howard or Mrazek to make a strong case for the starting position — or let it slip away.
For now, Blashill appears content to juggle his goaltenders just as he’s juggling his lines to determine who will give the Wings the best chance to win every time he steps on the ice.
The Wings play the Ottawa Senators in a home-and-home series this weekend. Howard will start in goal Friday, which means Mrazek will likely start in Ottawa on Saturday.