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At one point this season, quite recently, the Vezina Trophy race was a sprint to a coronation: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals goaltender and pupil of that Netminding Yoda Mitch Korn, had the trophy in the bag.
He had the NHL lead in wins. As he did for goals-against average. As he did for save percentage.
As for Feb. 12, he still holds onto one of those leads: Wins, with 35, four more than Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks. That’s 14 more wins than Petr Mrazek of the Detroit Red Wings – Holtby has started 44 games, Mrazek has 34 – but hey would you look at that: The Red Wings goalie leads the NHL in save percentage (.934) and GAA (1.94) heading into Friday night’s game hosting the Colorado Avalanche.*
The current stats picture, via War-on-Ice, at 5-on-5:
Here’s what they’ve done on the penalty kill:
The Red Wings have the 19th best penalty kill in the NHL; the Capitals have the fourth. Sometimes a kill works because of the goalie. Sometimes it’s the system and the personnel in front of him.
Which is, essentially, the same argument that can made with all goaltending stats, right?
"One of the requirements to be a real good hockey team is you need to have elite goaltending," Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said, via MLive.com.
"Certainly when somebody has those types of rankings that means you're getting that type of goaltending. … I also think it's a team stat. Goals against and save percentage certainly have to do with how you play defense and how your team defense is. Do you give up lots of back door opportunities? Do you give up lots of second (chances)? Do you give up big-time Grade A (chances) all the time? Do you do a good job keeping pucks to the outside? I think we've done a good job of that and I think Petr's been great."
Well, they’ve done OK with it.
According to War On Ice, Mrazek faces 28.55 shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. That’s more than Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils (26.67) and Holtby (27.75) but less than Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers (29.52) and Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks (29.62).
Here are the goalies ranked by high-quality saves – i.e. ones that are in the slot or the doorstep of the crease – and their high quality save percentage:
Despite the sample size, Mrazek acquits himself well (and the season Crawford is having is underscored).
Here’s a look at Mrazek’s “adjusted save percentage,” which War On Ice defines as:
NHL goaltenders do not compete on a level playing field: In any given game, some goaltenders face many difficult, close-range shots, while others face many easy, long-range shots. To account for this, we use “Adjusted Save Percentage”, which takes into account the “quality” of each shot they face based on the empirical league-wide shooting percentage from that area of the ice.
So, that said, here’s Mrazek:
(The color and size of the circles is games played.)
As Tommy Chalk noted over on FOX Sports, in lobbying for Mrazek (and do check out that work):
In virtually every statistical category (except for high-danger save percentage in all-game situations), Mrazek is statistically superior. And one reason why those numbers may stay so high is because of Mrazek's defense, which has excelled in front of Mrazek for virtually the entire season.
Yet Henrik Zetterberg said it best: solid defense, but a goalie that’s getting it done.
"It's definitely a Mrazek thing, combined with the team thing. It doesn't matter good a team is in front of you, if you're not stopping the puck you won't reach those numbers,” Zetterberg told MLive.com. “He's probably a little modest about it, but he should be proud of that and he's been playing well all year."
Mrazek’s been good all season, but especially in his last 13 appearances: 10-2-1, stopping 333 of 350 shots he faced with three shutouts. Jimmy Howard has only made three appearances in 2016, losing all three.
(Reminder: That’s $5,291,666 against the cap through 2019 with a limited no-trade clause for Howard.)
This is what the Red Wings were hoping for: Mrazek finds consistency, wins the job and gives them a goalie that looks like he can win a round in the playoffs on his own. (At 23 years old, no less.) They’re going to have to pay him for this performance after this season as an RFA. Wonder what happens to that price tag if he ends the season with a Vezina or, at the very least, a nomination?