Jimmy Howards broken right index finger will be either the best or worst case scenario for Red Wing backup goalie Ty Conklin. Not that Conklin or anybody else for that matter wanted to see Howard get injured, but in pro sports it comes down to opportunity.
If anybody needs an opportunity to prove themselves, its Ty Conklin.
Since he backstopped the Wings to 3-0 victory at Colorado way back on October 8, the 35-year-old goaltender has looked extremely uncomfortable patrolling the Detroit net.
Conklin has played in 10 games thus far, 8 being starts, and is 3-5 with a GAA of 3.20, a save percentage of .886 and 1 shutout. He has won 2 of his last 3 starts, which has calmed the fears of some within the Detroit organization, but the Wings are still considering adding a netminder at the trade deadline.
Coupled with the news that Howard will be out for more than 2 games that could become a four to six week timeline has me guessing that Ken Holland and company have just moved goaltending to the top of the priority list.
If Conklin didnt feel the heat before, he must certainly be feeling it now.
Despite having a six game losing streak early in the year, a subpar season from Henrik Zetterberg and a .500 road record, the Wings, in a weird sort of way, have put together a terrific season.
Detroit is vying for the best record in the NHL or at the very least the top spot in the Western Conference. Theyve done it with team defense, balanced scoring, a defensive corps that has chipped in offensively and an astounding home record (20-2-1), but the main ingredient to their success has been the play of Howard.
If there was one position that the Wings couldnt afford a long term injury to it was goaltending; unless Conklin can become the goalie he was during his first stint in Detroit.
During the 2008-09 season as a Red Wing, Conklin appeared in 40 games, compiled a 25-11-2 record with GAA of 2.51, a save percentage of .909 and 6 shutouts. He played so well that the Wings were outbid for his services in the free agent market by divisional rival St. Louis.
Playing for the Blues the last two seasons, Conklin played well in his first year, but his second year was less than stellar an 8-8 record, with a GAA of 3.22, a save percentage of .881 and 2 shutouts.
He was signed as a free agent by the Wings in the offseason, only after Tomas Vokoun jilted the Wings in favor of the Washington Capitals. At the time of his signing, there were whispers that Father Time may be catching up with Conklin and his play this season has done nothing to quiet those whispers.
After Saturdays game in Edmonton and Mondays in Phoenix, the Wings return to the Joe Louis Arena for a six-game homestand. Out of their final 28 games, 18 are at the friendly confines of JLA.
Considering the Wings record at home, it appeared likely that Detroit would be in excellent shape to close out the season on a roll. With Howard being out for at least two and perhaps up to six weeks the Wings roll could be all downhill.
Its unclear how long Detroits brass will give Conklin to prove he can be the man between the pipes. My hunch is that it will depend on the severity of Howards injury, but conventional wisdom also indicates not too long.
With that in mind, there are several veteran goalies with playoff experience that Detroit would love to pry loose from their current teams: Jose Theodore, Nikolai Khabibulin, Evgeni Nabokov and my choice, J.S. Giguere, just name a few.
Availability, however, along with contractual status, trade demands and a willingness among other teams to help out the Wings will all be major factors in acquiring a top shelf backup goalie.
For now its all about Ty Conklin. If he can come through, then the goaltending issue is not an issue at all. If Conklin cannot response to the challenge, a possible dream season turns into a horror show on ice.