Jimmy Howard leaves Red Wings shorthanded for ‘a while’
Last season, it looked like former Detroit Red Wings starting netminder Jimmy Howard was becoming expendable.
He finished the 2015-16 campaign playing second fiddle to the younger Petr Mrazek, who had some of the best numbers around the league before fatigue slowed him down a bit. He still finished the year ahead of Howard, who was a disappointing 14-14-5 and boasted just a .906 save percentage – and it was assumed that he’d become the clearer number one by this season.
He’s been struggling through his first 20 games, though, to the tune of a .899 save percentage. Howard, on the other hand, has been back up to snuff; he’s sitting on a .934 save percentage of his own, showing Mrazek still has some learning to do and Howard still has some talent left in the tank.
Unfortunately, the Red Wings won’t be able to utilize that for a little bit.
The Atlantic Division club officially put Howard on their seven-day injured reserve list on Wednesday morning, following his early departure from the ice Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. General manager Ken Holland said they’re giving the veteran a few days to ‘see where he is’, but that he likely could be out for a while.
Holland says #RedWings' Jimmy Howard will be "out for a while" but not sure how long. They'll wait a few days to see how his body responds.
— Brendan Savage (@BrendanSavage) December 21, 2016
For the Red Wings, this is the worst news they could receive for Christmas.
Mrazek has always been one of the most aggressive young goaltenders in the NHL. He loves to come out farther than expected and challenge shooters – but as has been slowly discovered in recent years, that style leaves netminders open to vulnerable positioning more often than it leaves the shooter with limited options.
The teams around the league may be catching on to that, but it’s more than just the way offensive systems are approaching Mrazek’s crease. The defense in front of him, as they’ve been trending for the last few seasons, is getting more tired. They aren’t protecting their goaltender the way Detroit rosters in the past have, and it’s showing – particularly for the young starter who isn’t used to being as exposed as he’s been.
Howard, of course, has been around for over a decade. He’s fully aware of how to adjust to continue to thrive when the defense isn’t helping – so losing him at this point in the season will hurt, particularly if the seven-day designation proves not long enough.
The Red Wings are currently sitting on a 14-15-4 record, good for an appalling seventh in the Atlantic Division. Without Howard, they’ll have to figure out how to not just prevent a step back in front of Mrazek; if they want a real shot at the postseason, they’ll have to figure out how to improve altogether.
Howard and Tampa Bay Lightning starter Ben Bishop both left the ice in the same game Tuesday night – and that was just another example of goaltenders getting injured at this point in the season.
When starter Carey Price was run just a short while ago, he snapped – but he wasn’t the only goaltender who was run that night. Starter Devan Dubnyk, who plays a huge role in the success of the Minnesota Wild, found himself getting run that night as well.
Goaltenders are already getting prepped to accept smaller gear, which the NHL has been relentlessly trying to push through safety and quality testing. It seems, for the time being, like the manufacturers are doing their due diligence in ensuring things are up to snuff – but it looks (at least for this year) like more and more goaltenders are being exposed to on-ice play.
As more goaltenders learn to handle the puck and join in on the play, more and more skaters are raising noise that they should be just as vulnerable to hits and physical play as the other ten skaters on the ice. Clearly, though, it looks like they’re suffering from things getting more physical (both from skater interaction and stylistically) in ways that are directly hurting their teams more than the loss of a single skater. Certainly something to watch out for as the season progresses.