GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — With the Detroit Red Wings trading goalie Petr Mrazek to the Philadelphia Flyers last week, Jared Coreau — the Grand Rapids Griffins’ starting goaltender who backstopped the team to a Calder Cup championship last season — became the Red Wings’ backup goalie.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Griffins, who dug themselves out from the depths of the Central Division, partly due to solid goaltending from Coreau. Just over a month ago, the Griffins were sixth in the seven-team division. After a 3-2 shootout win against the Iowa Wild on Sunday night, Grand Rapids sits in second place, eight points behind first-place Manitoba.
Coreau posted shutouts in each of his past two games with the Griffins, earning him CCM/AHL Player of the Week honors last week. On the season, he has a 0.916 save percentage.
With Coreau gone, Matej Machovsky became the new guy in town.
The 24-year-old from the Czech Republic had been having his own successful season with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, with a 0.928 save percentage.
Machovsky spent the past four seasons with Plzen HC in the Czech Extraliga, sporting a 0.923 save percentage.
He got his first taste of AHL action in relief of Tom McCollum on Wednesday, making 14 saves on 15 shots in 32 minutes. On Sunday, he made his first AHL start for the Griffins, making 26 saves on 28 shots and stopping all three shootout attempts.
“I was a little bit nervous from the start,” Machovsky told Wings Nation of his first start. “When the game got on, it was better and better and better and then I think the shootout was (my) best part.”
— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) February 26, 2018
The Griffins spent much of the first period on the penalty kill, taking five penalties. Machovsky got out of the period surrendering just one goal.
“He was good, he was very good tonight, especially in the first period when we took five penalties,” coach Todd Nelson said. “He had to be big in a couple of those where we gave up some point-blankers, and he made the stops. He gave us a chance to win.”
Matt Lorito, who scored the Griffins’ second goal Sunday to tie the game at 2-2, said in the limited time he has seen Machovsky, the Czech has shown solid fundamentals.
“He seems to be really square to the puck,” Lorito said. “We haven’t had too many practices since he’s been up. Just shooting on him, he looks square, and he looks solid. I think he lets the puck come to him, he’s not guessing. That’s a good sign so far.”
Lorito added it was nice to see Machovsky succeed during his first start, as the pressure of a first start can affect some goalies.
“He didn’t look nervous at all,” Lorito said. “He made a lot of big saves in the first period. He kept us in the game. I liked his game a lot. He was confident, and I think that’s the biggest thing. You don’t know how a new goalie is going to respond to the stage, and I thought he did a really good job.”
Of course, Machovsky has a little more than 95 minutes between two games. The sample size is small, but it’s a promising start for the Griffins’ new goalie.
McCollum, on the other hand, didn’t see consistent action this season as Coreau’s backup. In his first start since Coreau’s departure Wednesday, he allowed three goals on 19 shots and played just 25 minutes against Chicago.
However, he rebounded nicely against Iowa on Saturday, making 22 saves and nearly registering his first shutout of the season, allowing a goal with three seconds left.
McCollum struggled early in the season, posting a 0.886 save percentage and earning three wins in his first 13 games. It appeared if the Griffins were going to have a chance at defending their Calder Cup title, they would have to rely on Coreau to get them there.
However, since McCollum’s start Dec. 30, he has posted a 0.923 save percentage and notched six wins in eight starts.
Griffins captain Matthew Ford said he’s confident in the current goaltending tandem.
“Even when Coreau was here, Tommy’s been playing unbelievable here lately, too,” Ford said. “Since Christmas, we’ve had two unbelievable goaltenders. Even with Rozie going up, we have two unbelievable goaltenders.”
Nelson agreed, noting a starter will be determined on a game-by-game basis.
“I saw what I wanted to see tonight out of Machovsky,” he said. “Right now, we have two quality guys going.”
Interestingly enough, Coreau could still return to the Griffins for the playoffs, according to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan.
If #RedWings want Jared Coreau and Tyler Bertuzzi to be eligible for AHL playoffs they must be assigned to @griffinshockey by 3 p.m. tomorrow. They can be recalled after 3 p.m. and would count towards the post-trade deadline four recall limit.
— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) February 25, 2018
With the Red Wings all but out of the playoff picture, it might be worth burning a call-up to get Coreau eligible for the AHL playoffs. However, the Red Wings might want to save those call-ups in order to get other Griffins players some NHL experience.