There is no question about the Red Wings’ success over the last 20 years. When you make two straight decades worth of playoff appearances, that qualifies as being successful. Interestingly enough, the Wings have had several different goalies leading them into the post season. The changing of the guard between the pipes may be coming to an end.
Seriously, you may not realize it, but there have been 7 starting goalies during that 20 year streak. Tim Cheveldae, Chris Osgood, Mike Vernon, Dominik Hasek, Curtis Joesph, Manny Legace, and Jimmy Howard have had game one starts in the post-season. Actually, you could almost say 9 different goalies because Osgood and Hasek each left, came back, and started.
Needless to say, a lot of credit has to go to a defensive scheme and how important it is, especially in Hockeytown. But a little consistancy could also benefit the Wings, and it looks like we are in the midst of some. Jimmy Howard has progressively gotten better and better over his NHL career. Right now, he’s as good a netminder there is in the league. And the city seems to be getting behind him.
The love affair with Jimmy started with a face wash, which is typical Detroit. Pittsburgh was at the Joe in late March of ’09. Sydney Crosby got a little too close to Howard as the game was wrapping up. So Howie decided to make a glove save on Crosby’s head. It was, prior to the last year’s worth of playoff action, one of the louder moments I’ve ever heard at the Joe. The love affair started.
It continued through that run to the play-offs. If you remember, Howard went 13-0-2 down the stretch when it was questionable as to if the Wings would even make the playoffs. Behind their netminder’s awesome run, Detroit ended up as the 5th seed.
His playoffs, though, was less than steller as Detroit was bounced after a 5 game series against the Sharks. His 2.75 gaa and .915 save percentage left a lot to be desired and a little bit of fear as to whether Howard was going to be the goaltender for the next decade. Most people were ready to chalk up the numbers to rookie jitters.
The following year, his regular season did nothing to alleviate the fears. As a matter of fact, his numbers were actually worse. His goals against average went up to 2.79 and save percentage went .908. And then the playoffs started…
After a sweep of Phoenix, Howard was marvelous against the Sharks. It’s hard to say that of goalie who lost the first three games of the series, and then lost in game seven, but those results were not because of his play. He put the Wings in a position to win game 1 and 2 despite the team in front of him being terribly out-shot. He did his job as the Wings dominated games 4 and 6. He stole game 5. He coined the phrase “why not us.” It turned into a one week mantra for a team (and a city). His numbers showed as well. His .923 save percentage and 2.43 goals against relieved the Wings fear about his playoff numbers.
Though the Wings are up and down out of the gate in this season, Howard has been absolutely fantastic. His numbers are the best of his career. His save percentage is around .925, while his goals against average is under two. Just imagine where this team would be without him? Actually, you had to see that when he was off celebrating the birth of his child. The Wings were shelled in those two games.
If you were wondering, THAT’S the reason the Wings went after Evgeni Nabokov and Tomas Vokoun in the off-season. It’s not because they don’t have faith in Howard. It’s because they don’t want a huge drop off when Mike Babcock decides to give him a night off. Ty Conklin has been less than stellar. The fresher Jimmy is come April, the better off the Red Wings are.
Yet, you can’t worry about that now. Right now you have to worry about winning games, and the Red Wings aren’t quite doing enough of it. But that’s not because of their goaltending. If Howard continues to play like this, Nick Lidstrom won’t be the only one going to the NHL awards at the end of the season.