PHILADELPHIA — Petr Mrazek was thrown to the wolves this season by the Blackhawks. Acquired to basically provide a warm body in the net, he has statistically proven to be what everyone expected: one of the NHL’s worst goaltenders.
But his mental resilience, which hasn’t let his lack of success affect his forward-looking attitude or self-confidence, has been genuinely impressive. That has been on prime display the past week, and he has finally found some success as a result.
In the Hawks’ historic 4-1 win over the Flyers on Thursday, Mrazek saved 37 of 38 shots, including 34 straight after an early goal against.
“He’s a battler,” coach Luke Richardson said. “He works hard. There’s been so many games this year where we haven’t got him a lot of goal support when he’s played well and kept us in the game. So it’s really nice to see a guy get rewarded in that way.”
Last weekend against the Kraken, Mrazek endured one of the worst nights possible, stopping one of five shots before being mercifully pulled 12 minutes in. Only 10 other goalies since the NHL began tracking shots on goal (in 1970) have recorded an appearance with a save percentage equal to or worse than Mrazek’s .200 that night.
Having made only two other starts in three weeks leading up to that disaster, it would’ve been easy for him to let his psyche slip. Fellow goaltender Alex Stalock, after all, was supposed to resume his regular starting pattern the following game against the Sabres.
But Stalock’s unfortunate concussion in practice instead gave Mrazek an immediate bounce-back opportunity — and he made the most of it, stopping 30 of 33 in the comeback win Tuesday.
“You just flush that [Seattle] game and move on,” Mrazek said Thursday. “That’s how the league works. [There are] a lot of games in a short time, so sometimes you’re going to have games like that. But you have to refocus and do it again another night.”
He followed that Tuesday performance with Thursday’s fantastic outing. His 38 saves marked his second-most in four years.
Some of them were rather dicey, and others downright lucky — like one puck he inadvertently pulled out of the crease with the back of his pad after it clanked off the post — but he was probably due for some good luck.
“I’ve been a little more aggressive when we are in our zone,” he added. “[When] I’m out of the blue [paint], I can see the puck well. And [our defensemen] are boxing the players out well, so I can be more aggressive. It’s working right now.”
Mrazek’s overall numbers remain ugly: he’s 5-10-1 with an .884 save percentage and a minus-7.6 GSAA. At this point, they’re pretty much doomed to finish the year ugly. One could say they were predestined in September to be ugly. But he’s nonetheless unfazed.
The Hawks have actually demonstrated some impressive resilience lately as a full team. They’ve now won five of six after rallying from a 1-0 first-intermission deficit Thursday.
The victory snapped a strange drought of 17 consecutive regular-season losses in Philadelphia, albeit with one rather notable postseason win sandwiched in the middle of that streak. Their last road victory against the Flyers previously came on Nov. 9, 1996, when Tony Amonte scored an empty-net goal to seal a 4-1 win — just the way Philipp Kurashev did Thursday.
The upswing has lifted them out of last place in the league standings — a spot now held by the Blue Jackets — and slightly reduced their current odds of landing the first overall draft pick. But Richardson is just happy to see his group finally clicking.
“We were skating really well,” Richardson said. “We were tracking well. We were really working together as that five-man unit.”