By: Eric Thomas
At the end of the second period, some of us in Detroit wondered if this was going to be the night. Jimmy Howard was perfect when the Hawks peppered him with shots in the second period; praise for acrobatic saves rained down from Twitter while many held their breath and wondered, “Will this be Jimmy Howard’s signature playoff win?”
In the end the defense was wholly outmatched; the offense at times seemed convinced that the aim of the game was to pass the puck more often than the Hawks and every Wings fan watching felt the sting of Nick Lidström’s retirement. The Red Wings’ lost game one in Chicago, and you can’t blame that on Jimmy Howard. The goalie did not lose the game. He didn’t win it either.
The Red Wings have far more pressing issues than goaltender; the defense oscillates between young and awful, with only game seven against the Ducks as their strong performance. The offense spends entire periods not showing up and the team needs another goal scorer to fully compliment Datsyuk and Zetterberg. These things are all true and are more pressing. We should take time to point out that the Wings are in year four of the Howard administration. The question needs to be asked, dead eyed in the mirror: Is Jimmy Howard the kind of goaltender who can win the Wings a cup?
If you’re wondering why this blog is written with the careful language of a hostage negotiator it’s because at some point in the last four years discussing the goalie has become verboten in Detroit. Was there some pinky swear meeting held in an alleyway where the heads of all houses passed among them a pact, that none shall breathe any idle moment of criticism against the one we call Jimmy Howard?
If anything, this has been part of a massive overcorrection. There’s a cobwebby cliché in Detroit, about the two worst jobs, and it seems like there’s been some effort to tamp down anything that resembles criticism of either those two positions. Any negative directed at Howard is dismissed as the pedestrian rantings of an uninformed observer. Say something about him and you’ll be labeled a “common sports fan” with “uninformed opinions” or “a ******* ******” if you’re on Twitter or Facebook. This is from the same town that STILL criticizes Chris Osgood, who won his first Cup as a starter at 25 years old and spent most of Dominik Hašek’s time here wondering if he was washed up.
It’s an odd time to stop wondering about the goalie, because Howard still hasn’t proven himself in the playoffs. He’s gotten it done in the regular season, last year especially, but he hasn’t had a game where he has been the best goalie on the ice in the playoffs, last year especially. Many people cite that he hasn’t had the talent that others have enjoyed but this is a recent problem. Howard played behind Lidström and Brad Stuart and produced similar inconsistent results. He’s 17-19 in the playoffs, only one shutout. This year Howard is 14th in save percentage and 20th in goals allowed. To be fair, the defense hasn’t helped him this year. He’s 2nd in shots against, but Henrik Lundqvist and Tukka Rask are right behind him, both boasting better save percentages than number 35.
When Howard was tapped to be the net minder, we were all asked to be patient. We were assured of his talent and if we would just be patient there would be a home grown goalie with superstar talent between the pipes for the Winged Wheel in the decades to come. Howard has had tons of great saves, but he hasn’t ever taken that next step. There is obviously still time, the series with the Blackhawks gives him ample opportunity to steal a game from a more talented team, Howard himself is in charge of writing his own playoff legend.
Howard doesn’t have his signature playoff win yet. It would be fair to start wondering if he ever will.