Red Wings need a healthy Howard in the net

Jimmy Howard has played well in the net so far in the 2014-15 season.

Jimmy Howard has played well in the net so far in the 2014-15 season.

Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard went into last season with his confidence at an all-time high. His previous season in 2012 had statistically been his best yet for the Red Wings. Playing 42 of 48 games, not only was Jimmy’s health at a consistent level, his play was lauded over. He posted his highest save percentage of his career and was only .01 off his best goals against average. He nearly led the Red Wings to a shock upset of the eventual champion, Chicago Blackhawks in 7 games, but as all fans know, they faltered in overtime.

So needless to say the sky was the limit heading into 2013. The pundits were projecting for the Wings to have a huge season after the conferences were realigned post lockout, pairing them up as what was seen as weaker competition allowing the Wings to travel less and in the long run stay much healthier and fresh. Jimmy was projected to be a top two goaltender for the USA olympic team, assumed to be battling Jonathan Quick for the number one spot. Well, just as in life, not all things go according to plan. Jimmy had a less than stellar season, and that is being about as polite as possible. He had his worst save percentage since 2009, and his worst goals against average of his entire career. He was inexplicably selected for the USA Olympic team ahead of Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop. Nearly all Red Wings fans are willing to admit he got lucky on that selection.

Part of last season’s problem for Howard is that he simply could not stay healthy. He missed a total of 13 games due to injury, and a crucial eight-game span at the end of December where it is said that teams really cement their legitimacy as playoff-bound. Jimmy’s bad luck made another appearance in the form of the flu bug during the first round series against Boston and he had to be replaced during the pregame skate by Jonas Gustavsson.

Being a goalie in the sports mad city of Detroit, is akin to being the quarterback of any city’s NFL team. The goaltender gets the most scrutiny of anyone on the team for a few obvious reason. He is on the ice more than anyone else and the goal light is behind his net, not the forwards who might be lazy backcheckers. That being said, all the bad performances cannot be solely blamed on Mr. Howard. In past seasons if Jimmy was underperforming, he had the ‘Perfect Human’ covering up for his mistakes in the form of a number 5 sweater. Nick Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, and Brian Rafalski are no longer keeping the offensive chances at a premium in front of Howard. Almost all of the defencemen that replaced the previously mentioned are kids, and while they looked atrocious at times, they are making huge strides thanks to the experience they have gained. In the end this will benefit Howard more than anything else.

Howard has played in four of the first five games this season for the Wings, and boy has he played magnificently. Squeaking out an opening night win over Boston was a huge confidence builder, not only for him, but possibly for the entire Wings fan base. Jimmy has only given up seven goals through four games with one of those games going to overtime. That accounts for 1.7 goals a game, and with the firepower Detroit possesses that should be more than enough to win on almost any night and thus far ranks him as the number 10 goalie in all of the league. He is also in the top 12 in the league with a .934 save percentage.

Jimmy is one of the shortest goalies in the league this year at an even six feet. Looking at the other dominant goalies around the league, it is crazy to think of what he is capable of as they often much larger than him. Pekka Rinne is 6ft5, Mike Smith is 6ft4, and Ben Bishop is the largest goalie in NHL history at 6ft7. Howard is able to make the cut down angles and fly across the crease faster than most goalies his size. Taller goalies do not have to move cross crease like Howard, as they are already large enough to cover the angles. Howard’s movement has leveled the playing field.

In the second meeting in the first three games against the Bruins, Jimmy made an astounding 37 saves in an eventual shootout loss. Many of those shots would have easily found the net last season, but not this year, Jimmy trained all summer to win back the fans and reach new heights in his career. Asked postgame about Howard’s sterling performance Henrik Zetterberg applauded their goaltender “He saved us tonight, big time. Without him, we wouldn’t have that point.” With Jimmy having a legendary leader like Zetterberg vouching for him, he has to know he is on the track for vast improvement.

Howard’s glove hand also looks just as strong as ever, as he robbed countless Bruins and Ducks forwards in the first two games. With Jimmy using his glove optimally and flawlessly, he has one of the best assets in the league. If he keeps up the acrobatic saves and holding his team in games like he has thus far this season, chants of ‘Jimmy, Jimmy..’ will be reverberating through the hallowed corridors of the great Joe Louis Arena once again.