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2015 NHL Playoffs: Petr Mrazek vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning: a lesson in sample sizes

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Detroit Red Wings fans have been quick to point to Petr Mrazek's 4-0 shutout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 28 as reason to be confident in their young netminder. Are they right?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Everywhere you look (well, mostly in Hockeytown), Petr Mrazek is being touted as the guy to lead the Detroit Red Wings over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1st round match-up of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There's some merit to those arguments, for sure. Mrazek's overall numbers are better in almost every category than his teammate, Jimmy Howard's. Howard has had a mostly forgettable second half of the season that actually managed to get worse as it went on, opening the door for the 23-year old Mrazek to earn the Game 1 nod from head coach Mike Babcock. It's probably the right call.

But one element of the Mrazek narrative that just won't seem to go away is the idea that a 4-0 shutout victory by Mrazek over the Lightning, on March 28, is a blueprint for the Wings to follow and a good reason to believe that Detroit can win the series with help from their whiz-kid in net.

A quick scan of the Red Wings beat will show how many are citing that game as a reason to start Mrazek in Game 1:

Ansar Khan:

"While both goalies have had issues, Mrazek's highs (win at Pittsburgh, shutouts vs. Tampa Bay and Carolina) have been better than Howard's top performances."

Helene St. James (emphasis added):

"Mrazek is familiar with some of Tampa Bay's young stars from playing against them in the 2013 AHL Calder Cup, but he has seen the whole team at the NHL level, too. He went 1-1 against the Lightning this season, with a 3.00 goals-against average and .868 save percentage. (Howard was 0-1-1 with a 2.43 GAA and .918 save percentage.) Mrazek's numbers look ugly because he let in five goals on 15 shots in a game at Tampa in late January.

The next time he met them, he made 23 saves in a 4-0 shutout."

Chuck Pleiness:

Mrazek also blanked the Lightning, who are the highest-scoring team in the league, in the last meeting of the regular season against the teams, making 23 saves.

Pleiness, of the Macomb Daily, is the only one to admit Mrazek might be just a touch vulnerable:

Mrazek had his ups and downs when he took over as the number one. After shutting out the Lighting (sic), he was replaced by Howard his next start against the New York Islanders, allowing four goals on 11 shots.

That one game on March 28 is inconsequential, really. A blip. The Tampa Bay Lightning lost Jason Garrison on his first shift after a questionable hit from Justin Abdelkader, and then they proceeded to lay an egg. It happens to every team. It doesn't change the fact that the Lightning have won 7 of their last 9 meetings with the Red Wings dating back to the divisional re-alignment prior to the 2013-14 season.

Petr Mrazek is just like every other goaltender in the world. Over a sample of just 23 shots -- which is how many Mrazek faced on March 28 at Joe Louis Arena -- literally anyone can look like Dominik Hasek. Ondrej Pavelec recorded back-to-back shutouts barely a week ago. That doesn't make him a good goalie; it makes him a goalie. Mrazek is better than Pavelec, obviously, but the point remains: goalie performance varies wildly from game to game. Making assumptions about a series based on one 23-shot slice of a goaltender's season is asinine. We need thousands of shots worth of data to make any sort of reliable claim about a goaltender's talent. Mrazek is promising, but no more likely to shutout the Lightning again than he is to get lit up for 5 on 15 shots again.

Even worse, conveniently ignoring abysmal outings by Mrazek -- including the ones above mentioned by Pleiness and St. James -- in favor of the March 28 game is textbook recency bias. "Mrazek did this great thing recently, that must mean everything he does from then on is also going to be great!"

It's bullshit. Don't believe it for a second.

He's still a good goalie though. And it's still going to be a tough series.