EDMONTON, Alberta — The Detroit Red Wings have used backup goalie Petr Mrazek sparingly this season.
He has only started three of the team’s 14 games and added one relief appearance. He hasn’t played since an Oct. 20 game against the Washington Capitals.
But, as the Red Wings (6-7-1) begin a three-game road trip across Western Canada with a Sunday afternoon date at Rogers Place against the Edmonton Oilers, Mrazek will be the one in goal. Jimmy Howard, Detroit’s regular starter, was not at practice Saturday in Edmonton as he needed to attend a funeral.
“I’m really excited, can’t wait for the game,” Mrazek told the Red Wings’ website. “I worked hard to stay in the game and hope I can do it more.”
But Mrazek probably doesn’t have kind memories of Rogers Place. Last season, he was on the hook for the loss as the Oilers peppered him with 38 shots. Four of them got past Mrazek, including a goal from reigning NHL most valuable player Connor McDavid that ended up on many best-of highlight reels for the 2016-17 season.
“They’re a fast team,” Mrazek told the Red Wings site. “That line with McDavid, they’re trying to play in the offensive zone, spread the zone and throw pucks at the net and do chaos around the net. We have to do a good job against these guys.”
Mrazek will know he has little room for error, as the Red Wings have struggled to score. In their last six games, they have scored two or fewer goals in regulation time in five of them.
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said his team needs to stop trying to be so cute in the offensive zone.
“We’ve got to score some uglier goals, I think,” he said. “Pucks are lying there. We’ve just got to win some of those battles.”
The Oilers (4-7-1) are undergoing similar offensive struggles. They entered Friday’s game against the Devils as the lowest-scoring team in the NHL. Sure, McDavid hits the highlight reels every night, but the book on the Oilers was that, outside of the breathtaking goals from the line of McDavid, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl, there were no workmanlike goals coming from the other lines.
That changed Friday in a 6-3 win over New Jersey. Pucks deflected off shin pads and in; the Oilers got traffic to the net.
“We’ve got to get back to the mode we had last year,” said Oiler veteran Milan Lucic, who got just his second goal of the season on Friday. “When you win one and you’re feeling good about things, you’ve got to keep it going for as long as you can.”
“What was nice to see was some of the unusual suspects getting on the scoresheet,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan. “Their confidence level should go up a little bit.”
McDavid, coming off a three-point night, and Maroon, on a seven-game point streak, likely need no help with their confidence.
Oiler left winger Anton Slepyshev hurt himself very late in Friday’s game, did not practice Saturday, and McLellan said the Russian forward is “doubtful” for Sunday.
Red Wings veteran Frans Nielsen is slated to play in his 700th career NHL game.