By: Will Burchfield
Jimmy Howard was nothing if not accountable after allowing four goals on 10 shots in the Red Wings’ 6-1 loss to the Blues on Saturday.
“When it all comes down to it tonight, I need to come up with saves for the guys,” Howard said.
The Red Wings played well through the first two periods, probably as well they’ve played all season. They outshot one of the best teams in the league by a two-to-one margin and had loads of great scoring chances. But Blues’ goalie Jake Allen was up to the task.
At the other end, Howard was not.
He surrendered one goal in the first, three in the second and was yanked after two periods with his team down 4-0. After the Blues’ fourth goal, a wrist shot from the point by Jay Bouwmeester that tipped off the stick of Mike Green in front, the fans at Little Caesars Arena handed Howard a Bronx cheer upon his next save.
He smiled when asked about it afterward, having already turned the page.
“It comes with the territory,” he said. “It’s one of those positions where it happens, even to the best guys in the league.”
Howard added he’ll have no trouble moving on.
“It’s not going to stick with me for a while,” he said. “I’ve learned just to go day by day.”
Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill came to passionate defense of his goaltender, who got a bit of a raw deal from the hometown fans.
“I get it, we have a passionate fan base,” he said. “But one thing I know about this fan base, they appreciate guys that go to work and put their head down and fight through adversity. I know that’s what this city’s about, and that’s what that guy’s done. He was down and out two years ago, could’ve said woe is me, could’ve had a bunch of excuses — no chance. All he did was go to work. He’s a guy that I’m certainly proud of and I think this city should be proud of.
“But I also understand the passion. I mean, it’s frustrating. The (fans) were frustrated, we were frustrated, Jimmy’s frustrated. But in the end, that’s the type of guy that I’m proud to coach and his teammates are proud to be a teammate of.”
Howard was beaten on a rebound, a wrist shot from the top of the left circle — and a heck of a wrist shot, at that — a breakaway and the aforementioned shot from the point. Henrik Zetterberg acknowledged there were probably a couples goals that Howard would like back, and the goaltender said it was the third: A one-on-one encounter with Scottie Upshall.
“I read him pretty well and at the last second I reached a little bit and opened up the five hole and he was able to slide it through there, so that was probably the one that frustrated me the most,” said Howard.
The Blues had four shots in the first and six in the second. That meant Howard went long stretches of play without seeing the puck, which can be challenging for a goalie. Sometimes, the hardest games are those in which you have to do the least.
“They’re extremely tough, because when they finally do get an opportunity usually it’s a good one and you have to be called upon to make the save, and I wasn’t able to do that for the guys tonight,” Howard said.
The veteran netminder was terrific through the first 15 games of the season, ranking high atop the leaderboards with a .931 save percentage. But he’s struggled of late. He has one win and an ugly .823 save percentage in his last eight games.
“I don’t think I have to change too much, just be a little bit more patient and let the play come to me. … I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, it’s just something where I have to find a way to come up with saves for the guys like I was earlier on in the year,” he said.
Blashill said he hasn’t noticed anything in Howard’s game recently that the goalie needs to fix.
“Nothing. I think his game is right where it needs to be,” Blashill said. “There’s some nights wheres the puck goes in. I was a goaltender, and some nights the puck finds ways to just go off people, it just seems like whatever happens the puck finds a way in. And that’s kind of what happened there tonight.
“I think Jimmy’s on top of his game. I think Jimmy looks the way he looked to me at the beginning of the year, the way he looked to me at the World Championships last year, the way he looked to me last year at the beginning of the season. I’m not one bit worried about Jimmy Howard.”
Quite simply, it was one of those nights. And Howard looked himself in the eye.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “the guys did their job and I have to do mine for them.”