Mazanec-Saros tandem has Admirals looking strong in goal for AHL playoffs

By Sean Shapiro
Marek Mazanec - Milwaukee Admirals

Photo: Milwaukee Admirals goaltender and Nashville Predators prospect Marek Mazanec currently sports a 2.34 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage along with an 18-14-5 record in 2015-16 (courtesy of Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

Sometime soon, Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason is going to have to make a difficult decision.

You have two talented young goalies, both playing at an extremely high level. So whom do you start when the AHL playoffs kick off next month?

It is a fair question, but luckily one Evason doesn’t have to answer right now. For the time being he is simply enjoying watching the two-headed goaltending monster that has developed with Juuse Saros and Marek Mazanec.

“They push each other, I think that really is the case,” Evason said. “Whether it’s in practice or in games, they both want the net and want their chance. And when they get their chance, they both make the most of it.”

It is not hard to backup Evason’s claim. The two goaltenders, whose names would fit well on a list of Bond villains, have backstopped the Admirals to one of the top spots in the Central Division.

Through 67 games, the Admirals have only allowed 169 goals. Mazanec and Saros both rank among the league leaders for goals-against average and save percentage. Saros has slightly better numbers, but Mazanec has slightly more games played.

Mazanec has found his groove with Milwaukee this season after appearing in a pair of NHL games with the Nashville Predators last season. The 24-year-old Czech has a .916 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average.

He is a big goalie at 6-foot-4 and uses his size to his advantage. He moves well side-to-side and does a good job reading shots through screens. Mazanec is also a skilled puckhandler and showed that off with five assists last season.

Saros is enjoying his first year in North America, and is one of the leading candidates to make the AHL All-Rookie Team. In 31 games, the 20-year-old Finn has 23 wins, a .919 save percentage and 2.26 goals-against average.

He is not as big as Mazanec at 5-foot-11, but Saros is a composed goaltender who controls rebounds well. He was well prepared for the AHL after standing tall the past two seasons as a teenager with HPK Hameenlinna.

Saros also made his NHL debut back in November when he turned away 20 shots in a 4-1 Nashville loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Even though he took the loss, Saros impressed Nashville’s coaching staff and made a handful of key saves early in the game.

Overall, the goaltending tandem hasn’t left Evason with a bad choice for the Calder Cup Playoffs. It also has put the Predators in an ideal position for the future.

While 33-year-old Pekka Rinne is the present of Nashville goaltending, Evason knows he’s watching the future in Milwaukee.

“You have to be happy with what they’ve done,” Evason said. “We’ve got two young goaltender that are really finding what they need to do to succeed here in North America.”

So what will Evason do when the playoffs start? The coach wouldn’t tip his hand or even think about the question earlier this week, but he is confident he won’t make a wrong decision with both goaltenders more than deserving of No. 1 status.

Follow Sean Shapiro on Twitter via @seanshapiro