In the sports world, there are few narratives more well-traveled than the “revenge game.” It adds some much-needed spice to otherwise dull contests, especially when they involve a team that has lost ten in a row.
When the Flyers head to Detroit tonight to face a rebuilding Red Wings squad that has not won a game this month, sports writers and television analysts in search of an intriguing storyline will offer the revenge angle for general consumption. It will go something like this: Petr Mrazek is returning to face the team that gave up on him. He’ll try to prove that they made a terrible mistake.
We can’t blame them, of course. Even in the best of times, it’s hard to generate compelling copy from athletes fluent in the language of cliche. Nevertheless, buying into the “Petr Mrazek returns to Detroit seeking retribution” angle will require some measure of suspension of disbelief.
For starters, the Red Wings and Flyers structured the Mrazek trade in such a way that the goalie’s success in Philadelphia only benefits Detroit. Per Adam Kimelman at NHL.com, here are the terms of the trade, which was framed as a conditional fourth round draft pick for Mrazek:
The fourth-round pick in 2018 can become a third-round pick if the Flyers reach the playoffs and Mrazek wins five games, Hextall said. It can become a second-round pick if the Flyers reach the Eastern Conference Final and Mrazek wins six playoff games. If the Flyers sign Mrazek to a contract, they will send the Red Wings their third-round pick in the 2019 draft.
Mrazek secured his fifth win with the Flyers against the Capitals on Sunday. A victory over the slumping Red Wings will only solidify the orange and black’s tenuous hold on a playoff berth. If Mrazek prevails over his former teammates in the present, he will still be helping his former organization in building its future.
More importantly, Mrazek’s performance thus far in Philadelphia has justified some of the on-ice criticism he received in Detroit. When the Red Wings decided to expose Mrazek in the expansion draft last year, his inconsistent play was cited as a major factor in the decision. The goaltender would be dominant for stretches and poor for others, but never steady. MLive.com’s Detroit Red Wings beat writer Ansar Khan described Mrazek’s issues in some detail in this column.
We’ve seen the good Petr Mrazek in Philadelphia. The goalie’s 28-save shutout of the Montreal Canadiens at the end of February culminated a six-game winning streak and briefly pushed the Flyers into first place in the Metropolitan Division:
We’ve also seen the bad Mrazek. The weekend road trip to Florida at the beginning of the month comes to mind. Mrazek conceded 6 goals in regulation during a 7-6 shootout loss to the Lightning. He followed up that dismal performance with an uninspired effort against the surging Florida Panthers.
Were all 10 of the pucks that found the back of the net in those two games exclusively the fault of Mrazek? Of course not. The Panthers scored multiple goals on breakaways and semi-breakaways, while the Flyers did a horrible job of containing Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa.
Nevertheless, a familiar pattern has emerged. Dave Isaac, the Flyers beat writer for the Courier-Post, captured it in an otherwise laudatory column about Mrazek’s play:
He was very sharp in his first three games, winning all of them and had a .947 save percentage. His next seven games he was 1-5-1 with a .863 save percentage. In a huge game Sunday, Mrazek had a comeback performance with 25 saves against the Capitals.
The Petr Mrazek experience has been a roller coaster ride. When he’s on his game, he’s great. When Mrazek goes cold, it seems like he can’t stop a beach ball. In a lot of ways, he’s the ideal goalie for a Flyers organization that has embodied inconsistency since the abbreviated 2012-13 season. In this time frame, the franchise has failed to reach a points percentage of 60% and has only made the playoffs twice, never advancing past the first round. Each season has featured double-digit overtime losses, owing in large part to the Flyers’ chronic inability to win a shootout. Last season, the Flyers won 10 games in a row and missed the playoffs. This year, the Flyers have endured a 10 game losing streak and are still on track to make the postseason.
Mrazek’s approach to goaltending even mirrors the Flyers’ aggressive style of play. He likes to skate beyond the confines of the crease, attacking the puck and minimizing the angles a shooter might exploit. He’s demonstrated a slick glove hand, but he’s been vulnerable to shots on his blocker side. Mrazek has also been slow at times moving from post to post.
Likewise, the Flyers have relied on an offensive style that seeks to move the puck quickly out of their own zone to create odd-man rushes. Their defensemen often engage in the offensive end as well, generating a large share of scoring chances. However, they’re particularly susceptible to odd-man rushes caused by stolen passes or shots that miss the target, bouncing off the boards and heading the other way.
From night to night, you can never be quite sure what you’re going to get from the Flyers or Mrazek. The past month has seen Philadelphia rise to first place and then fall to the point that their playoff position is now threatened by the Panthers and Blue Jackets. One game, the Flyers can dominate the first place Capitals; the next, they can stumble against the bottom-feeding Red Wings. Or not.
You’ll need to tune in to find out. Now there’s a compelling storyline.