Flickr, Anna Enriquez
To say things haven’t gone as planned for the Detroit Red Wings to start the shortened hockey season is putting it mildly. Plenty of familiar issues, be them with scoring, the power play or the penalty kill have all reared their ugly heads at inoppertune times.
But, have there also been some bigger issues in between the pipes to complicate these matters?
It certainly is feeling that way. So far, Jimmy Howard is a measly 4-4-1 on the year with an ugly 3.07 GAA. He’s allowed 27 goals thus far. The league average for GAA is 2.60, putting him well behind the curve. He’s allowed his fair share of questionable goals, including one in overtime against Chicago, several against St. Louis and Columbus and two from the point he should have had against Calgary on Tuesday night.
With the defense as banged up as it has been, this was supposed to be Howard’s big moment to prove himself as a stopper. He was supposed to put the team on his back and raise his level of play higher, knowing Detroit’s defense needed a hand. Instead, it’s been the same old average Howard in net, failing to corral rebounds, giving up goals at critical moments of the game and failing to adequately protect leads.
Before you hop all over me for being too harsh, let me emphasize again that I realize the Red Wings are a dinged up defensive team with plenty of other issues hurting them. Shouldn’t we expect more out of Howard given these circumstances, though? He’s 29 years old. He’s not a rookie or a fresh faced kid anymore. Goaltenders have a storied history of wanting the pressure of carrying a team. Early in his career, Howard has seemed to shrink from this moment instead of rising to the occasion.
Right now, with everything else going wrong at different times, the Red Wings need much more from their net minder. Instead of complicating matters with average play of his own, Howard needs to be the steady, stabilizing force that allows Detroit to figure things out and get through their injuries and scoring struggles. With the defense going through as many personnel changes as they have, the last line of defense has to dig deep and play much better. Howard himself would likely even admit that.
In Howard’s contract year, Ken Holland should be paying close attention to each of these performances. If Howard is not able to become a dominating force and grab the reigns, there’s no way the Red Wings should consider resigning him long term, especially with the defensive question marks the team might have in the next several seasons.
Fortunately for Howard, there is still plenty of time for a rebound.
Play Of The Week: Henrik Zetterberg’s hat trick goal. We’re going back in time, but Zetterberg rescued the Red Wings against St. Louis last Friday night with an amazing effort. Perhaps his finest goal came as he was chasing down a hat trick. Zetterberg outmuscled a St. Louis player, then barely chipped the puck past sprawled bodies and sticks over the goal line. The hats flew and Zetterberg was the hero. It was a fantastic individual effort.
Game Of The Week: Detroit at St. Louis. Another matchup with the Blues, this one in St. Louis. The Red Wings should be looking for revenge after getting blasted by the Blues 6-0 in their first game of the year away from home, while St. Louis will want payback for their tough loss Friday night, in which they blew a 3-2 lead in the third period. This shapes up to be a good one, provided the Red Wings are skating hard.
Dead Wings Doghouse: Red Wings’ younger players. When are these guys going to start producing? Other than Damien Brunner and Brian Lashoff, none of them have scored or produced much of anything. Gustav Nyquist, Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak, Tomas Tatar, Jakub Kindl, here’s looking at all of you. These role players need to step up in the weeks ahead and prove their worth. The more scoring and production the Red Wings enjoy from them, the better things will get for the offense as a whole.
Central Charting: Through Thursday morning, the Red Wings’ average 4-4-1 record qualifies them for fourth place in the Central Division. Overall, the team sits two points below eighth place in the Western Conference.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax