Position Battles – Goal

August is almost over and we can finally start getting excited about hockey season. Sure, we may be still two months away from puck drop for the Regular Season, but there’s not a lot else to keep us going in the off season; especially with Detroit’s free agent history being so thin.

I wanted to take a look at positional battles for each position for the next week or so, and I figured I would start with the backbone of any hockey team: goal. Granted, goal may be our weakest position here in Detroit. Either way, I wanted to break down the position battle that may or may not take place for the 2014-2015 Red Wings.

  1. Howard

I think it is a safe bet that Jimmy Howard comes into this season as the starter. He may have struggled last year, but we can attribute that to an off year for the 30 year old goaltender. He went 21-19-11 on the season in 51 games with a un-Howard-esque 2.66 GAA and a 0.910 SV%.

Jimmy last had a season that poor when posted a 2.79 in 2010-2011, but that was a fairly down year for our goaltenders. The man, the myth, the legend Nick Lidstrom was even a -2 this season, the only time in his career he was ever a minus player so it’s tough to put all the blame on the goalies. That was Osgood’s last season between the pipes and the man had a 2.77 GAA himself, with a SV% hovering barely above 0.900. Even when Joey MacDonald was called upon, he could only muster a 2.58 GAA behind a shaky Red Wings defense.

While it may be tough to peg Howard as an elite goaltender in the world, it is safe to say that he is the best goaltender we have.

2a. Gustavsson

Our obvious choice at backup is Jonas Gustavsson. Wings fans saw him as a bit of a savior for the team this year as he went 16-5-4 this past year, mostly playing while Howard was hurt. Gustavsson twice went on a five game winning streak while playing most of December and January.

However, that’s basically where the silver lining ends for Gustavsson. This past season’s 2.63 GAA is the best he has ever posted in the NHL. He came in with tons of hype from the Swedish Elite League and the Toronto Maple Leafs apparently “won a bidding war” for his services. He repaid them by posting 2.87, 3.29, and 2.92 GAAs in his two seasons with the Leafs. If GAA isn’t your stat, keep in mind that he held a 0.902, 0.890 and 0.902 save percenteages in those seasons respectively as well. The Monster isn’t our answer for a starter, but he is a capable backup, shown by his record last season.

2b. Mrazek

I only listed our backup position as 2a and 2b because I’m hoping that Mrazek gets a big crack at the main roster this year. While we will be carrying lots of extra forwards, I’d love to see Mrazek get in for a game here and there and get some very long looks for this season.

He may have only played in 9 games last year, but he posted two shutouts (Oilers, Blues) and a stellar 1.74 GAA (0.927 SV%) in those few games that he played. In six games that he played a full 50+ minutes, he only let in 11 goals which shows that, when given the chance, he can really lock his game down.

The guy is only 22 years old, but he improved his stats with the Griffins last year after being a key piece in their Calder Cup win in 2013. This kid needs to play big minutes for the Wings this season, and should challenge Gus for a backup spot, however, I can’t see Babs/Holland giving him that option.

Mrazek has entered the Mantha conversation as a young player who seems primed to break the Wings tradition of developing their prospects for long, long periods of time in Grand Rapids. Maybe this is the year that Holland’s hand is forced, and we get to see lots of young guys contribute to our storied franchise.

We’ll put our faith in Howard, Gus and (hopefully) Mrazek for another season to shut the door as the last line of defense for the Wings. Here’s hoping for great things out of them.

– Osgood’s Bucket

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