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Eric Thomas: Enough With The Goalie Controversy

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TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 7: Matthew Lombardi #15 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoots on Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings during NHL action at The Air Canada Centre January 7, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

TORONTO, CANADA – JANUARY 7: Matthew Lombardi #15 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoots on Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings during NHL action at The Air Canada Centre January 7, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

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It was too good to be true. The Red Wings were playing meaningful games in February, the 3rd string goalie was standing on his head and Joe Louis arena was erupting in playoff warmth. Then All Star goalie albatross Jimmy Howard came back to the team and cursed it into a desolate void of loss and despair.

The entire first paragraph is ridiculous. The Red Wings lost on the road to the Blackhawks and there are some who wonder if Joey MacDonald should start between the pipes at the Joe against Vancouver, as if preserving the streak is paramount. First of all, it isn’t. Second of all the Red Wings are completely accustomed to losing on the road. They certainly should be. They are 15-16-1 away from Detroit, and Joey Mac had some of those.

It wouldn’t be Detroit if there were not a goalie controversy but on this one shut up. Just because you only watched a couple of games during the streak this season doesn’t mean than Joey Mac was having a better season than Howard. The vast majority of the now fabled streak came with 35 in net and any fantasies of a deep playoff run hang on his ability.

The streak is meaningless and I would rather it go away now. It has become a distraction and needs to end. For some fans the streak has become the symbolic equivalent of the One Ring, and we are foolishly putting the season in danger only to protect the precious. Why would you want to start Joey Mac when your All Star goalie is back and healthy? Howard is used to playing almost every game and he thrived in the first half of the season. Why would we suddenly limit his playing time with Ty Conklin out of town?

Let’s not forget that athletes are fickle. Much of their ability comes from confidence and the great athletes always want to be in the game. Heck, even the lousy athletes would rather not ride the bench. Forcing Howard to ride the pine for Joey Mac would send the wrong message to him and the team. Two years ago we pushed the chips in on Howard. He is our boy. We winced when he gave up easy goals and internalized our screaming. We knew that if we were patient, Jimmy Howard could be an All Star.

This year, Howard became an All Star. Mazeltof! So now let’s sit him down? After the growing pains? After he would play spectacularly all game and let an easy one through? Now we want to sit him? Am I the only one who thinks this sounds crazy? I understand that you might want to go with the hot hand, but you don’t sit an All Star because the backup had a string of good games at home!

This is taking away nothing from Joey Mac. He has done a phenomenal job this season. Largely everyone thought that if Howard went down the Red Wings were toast. News his finger injury were met with reactions that ranged from despair to surrender. Joey Mac was the unexpected story and a thrill to watch. For that he is not the backup goalie for the Detroit Red Wings. This is a happy ending. He doesn’t have to live in Grand Rapids anymore and that is a prize worth a ream of lottery tickets.

So slow down, take a breath and let’s just calm everything down. If the streak ends with Vancouver let’s take it in stride. Let’s not start thrumming the bass drum and chanting for Joey Mac. We haven’t had an uncontested goal tender in a really long time and let’s not start tapping our feet now. Believe it or not fan enthusiasm really does affect these things and if we start openly questioning Howard’s abilities this season could be flushed out with quickness.

I can’t believe I am saying this because it will fall on deaf ears but Red Wings fans: be patient.

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