Howard Discusses Battle For Blue Paint In Detroit
Jimmy Howard might have uttered the most powerful understatement of the summer in a recent interview. When asked about sitting through all seven playoff games versus the Red Wings, he responded, “It wasn’t the way I pictured last year ending.”
Only the saddest of pessimists would have imagined Howard’s all-star-worthy season ending the way it did. A groin injury and its aftermath destroyed his early-season success, clearing the ice for rookie Petr Mrazek to steal the crease.
To Detroit’s credit, no one is declaring a starter ahead of this season. Ken Holland’s exit-meeting warning to Mrazek was clear: “If you’re going to sit on your laurels, we want Jimmy Howard to take the job. It’s a competition.” Howard’s recent meeting with new coach Jeff Blashill followed the same theme. According to Howard, Blashill told him “to go out there and work hard and seize the opportunity. It’s there for the taking [so] just go back out there and reclaim your spot.”
Howard believes “It’s going to be an open battle. The way it should be.” Detroit fans can be confident Blashill’s fight-it-out approach isn’t something he’s implementing ignorantly; he understands something about goaltender psychology and motivation, having played the position at the college level. Some coaches like to impose a starter to give the team a sense of stability, and only change the pecking order if he plays poorly over a long stretch. But Blashill isn’t going to force a decision. He won’t declare a starter till one emerges clearly through his play.
More evidence for an early-season (at least) platoon situation comes from a previous press conference, where Blashill asserted his confidence in both keepers: “Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek have proved at different points of their careers they’re elite goalies. It’s great to have as much depth at every position you can. I know both of them are elite competitors, as well as character people.” That kind of endorsement means that both goaltenders should get enough games to show if Detroit has a starter.
Looking at their numbers in detail, it’s hard to say with confidence whether either will emerge as a clear leader. Since the 2012-13 season, Howard and Mrazek have compiled similar advanced statistics. At even strength, Howard edges out Mrazek in three important save-percentage measures:
|Howard vs Mrazek 2012-15 5v5 Save Percentage Variants|
Though neither goaltender qualifies as elite, both are at least league average (92.3) in adjusted save percentage and just below average (83.3) when facing shots from the high danger zone. Though Howard looks like the better statistical choice, we have to factor in age and experience. Howard’s volume of starts means that his numbers are likelier to reflect his future performance, while Mrazek’s mere 40 career games doesn’t give much to base projections on. On the other hand, Howard’s age (31) means he isn’t likely to see significant improvement, whereas Mrazek (23) could well see positive developments this year.
I am doubtful either goaltender will emerge as a clear starter for the bulk of the season, but if I had to choose one, I would reluctantly endorse Howard. Barring injury, he should return to being an effective starter, while Mrazek gets into enough action to see his game continue to grow.