Petr Mrazek set to return as Leafs aim to overcome recent slump

Oct 30, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Petr Mrazek (35) stretches during the warmup against the Detroit Red Wings at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Petr Mrazek (35) stretches during the warmup against the Detroit Red Wings at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

Following the morning skate, goaltender Petr Mrazek is set to start for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they face the Chicago Blackhawks at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night.

One of the narratives surrounding Petr Mrazek is that the Toronto Maple Leafs paid too much for him. However, whether or not you agree $11.4 million over three years was steep, he is an important depth piece between the pipes.

With this in mind, Mrazek has had a less than auspicious beginning to his tenure in Southern Ontario. Thanks to an ongoing groin issue, he has so far been limited to just two regular season starts for the Leafs.

However, the 29-year-old is finally set to return on Saturday night, for the game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Speaking to the Toronto Sun‘s Terry Koshan and other members of the media on Friday, Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said:

"“Our intent is for (Mrazek) to play (Saturday). (Friday) was another full practice for him. As long as he gets through (Saturday’s) morning skate still feeling like he is right now, the plan would be to activate him and play him. But he has to get to that point still.”"

It was confirmed on Saturday morning that Mrazek will indeed start against the Blackhawks. He has not played since Oct. 30, in a 5-4 win versus the Detroit Red Wings.

So far for the Leafs, the 2010 fifth round draft pick has a 1-1-0 record. He has registered a 4.22 Goals Against Average (GAA) and .877 save percentage.

So much more should be expected from Mrazek though. However, while he has an excellent temperament and athleticism, he is renowned for being frustratingly inconsistent.

Assuming Mrazek can become a more consistent performer, he would prove to be a valuable backup to Jack Campbell. It would additionally mean not having to rely as much on the young and inexperienced Joseph Woll.

There is no question that Campbell is the number one goaltender for the Leafs. However, he can’t do it all on his own and the team needs a reliable backup so he can rest as and when needed.

Toronto has been in a slump of late, with just three points from their last four games after previously winning 15 of 17. As much as putting Campbell in goal versus Chicago strengthens the team, Keefe appreciates he can’t keep relying on him to bail everyone out.

This is where Mrazek comes in, with Saturday providing an opportunity to prove his worth. Understandably, remaining healthy will be key to this.

Along these lines, the Ostrava, Czechoslovakia native was asked about his recent groin injury issues on Friday, and how it has compromised his attempts to help the Leafs. Speaking to the media following practice, Mrazek said:

"“Yes, especially when you’re on a new team and you want to compete and you want to play games, but that’s how it is, especially when it comes to goaltenders. You have to be careful with groins and you have to make sure it’s healed well, so that’s something that you just start with what you can control and the rest, whatever happens happens.”"

This is Mrazek’s 10th season playing at the NHL level. He’s had his moments, but you can make an argument he has missed the boat when it comes to realising his potential as a long-term regular number one starter.

However, this is not something the Leafs require from the former Philadelphia Flyer, as long as Campbell holds up. They just need him to provide reliability whenever called upon.

Case in point is last season, when Mrazek played for the Caroline Hurricanes. He had a 6-2-3 record in 12 starts, while registering a 2.06 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Mrazek has always had confidence in his abilities. Assuming he can provide performances similar to those last season with the Hurricans, the Leafs will also have the confidence to call on him more regularly, which in turn will help keep Campbell fresh.

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Assuming Mrazek can remain healthy, what are your expectations for him this season with the Leafs? Let us know in the comments section below.