After suffering a loss to the worst (now, second worst) team in the league, many Toronto Maple Leafs fans were upset.
Losing sucks and sometimes following this team, it gets to you and can make you prone to lash out. So, it comes as no surprise that a common theme among some Toronto Maple Leafs fans is to air their frustrations with Petr Mrázek when he loses.
It’s clear that many are upset, but why are some fans so quick to give up on him?
Don’t give up on Petr Mrázek just yet.
Toronto Maple Leafs and Petr Mrazek
After signing a three-year deal carrying a $3.8 million AAV, there was a lot of excitement. After all, he was the biggest free agent signing of the off-season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and it came with big expectations. Finally, it seemed like the Leafs would have two solid options between the pipes every night. Gone were the days of riding their starting goalie into the ground because of inadequate backups.
Sadly early on, things haven’t gone the way it was envisioned. Mrázek, who has a fairly extensive history of injuries has struggled with them this season, forcing the Leafs to rely on Campbell more than you’d want. When Mrázek has been healthy, the time between starts has been too long for him to find his rhythm. Admittedly, this has caused much to be desired when he does finally get the chance to start games.
However, after only four games, I’d argue that fans have been yanking on the leash a little too prematurely. He’s still a good goalie and 4 out of the 279 total games Mrázek has played in over his entire career, won’t change that fact.
Mrázek’s play this season
As I said before, Mrázek’s play has left much to be desired. So far this season, he’s never finished a game above a .890% save percentage and has never let in less than two goals. The game he let in only two goals?
His most recent start against the Coyotes where he only faced 18 shots against. In his first game, he let in three goals on 26 shots through two periods before leaving early due to an injury. He was kept out of game action for two weeks in order to recover from his groin injury, he didn’t make his next appearance until October 30th, against the Red Wings. In this game he let in four goals on 31 shots in a win.
Unfortunately, the injury troubles didn’t stop there as Mrázek spent the next month on I.R, after he re-injured his groin. Finally, he made his return against the Blackhawks on December 11th, again letting in four goals on 35 shots in another victory. These are less than ideal results but you might be starting to see where some of the problem is for Mrázek. Since then, he spent most of the last month sitting around waiting for game action and between Campbell’s Vezina caliber play and Covid-19 postponements, his opportunities have been scarce.
No Need To Worry, Yet
Now, I’ve talked about all of the roadblocks that have stood in Mrázek’s way so far this season; Injury troubles, Playing behind a hot hand, and Covid postponements. He still has yet to overcome those obstacles, even with a limited showing. In his four games this year, he sits with a .882% save percentage, good for sixth worst in the entire league. It’s simply not good enough, especially not for a goalie making just shy of $4 million per season. (stats naturalstatrick.com).
I wrote about Mrázek and the Leafs goaltending issues a few months ago and shared similar sentiments. Make no mistake about it, Petr Mrázek is one of the better goalies in the NHL when he has the opportunity. In the three years leading up to this one, he ranks fourth league-wide in GSAx (Goals Saved Above Expected, per Evolving Hockey). We all know he has the talent to turn things around but will he have the opportunity? More importantly, can he stay healthy long enough to take that opportunity?
Although I can’t answer the last question, I can answer the first one. The Leafs next back-to-back isn’t until mid-March, thankfully they’ve given themselves a little bit of breathing room in the standings. They’re currently third in the Atlantic division, their closest competitor is the Boston Bruins who are five points behind with only one game in hand.
Behind them is the Detroit Red Wings who sit 12 points back behind the Leafs and Toronto in fact has three games in hand on them. So, I’d expect Mrázek to get a few more starts coming up, they need him to improve and show what we all know he is capable of. Hopefully Leafs Nation is willing to give him that opportunity.