Jimmy Howard’s injury was good for Red Wings
|February 20, 2012||Posted by TheCostanzo under Detroit Red Wings, NHL|
Jimmy Howard is expected to be back in goal Tuesday night when the Detroit Red Wings travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks. It will be his first game since Feb. 2 when he broke a pinkie finger against the Vancouver Canucks.
When Howard went down, the natural — and correct — response from Red Wings fans was, “Oh $@*%.” Without Howard in the lineup, the Red Wings were 3-5 before his injury as Ty Conklin struggled to find any kind of consistency between the pipes. Not having a healthy Jimmy Howard for two weeks or more looked to be catastrophic as the Red Wings were (and still are) in the middle of a tight divisional and conference race.
Those fears looked absolutely justified when in the first Jimmy-less game Conklin allowed three goals on nine shots in the first period against Edmonton in what turned out to be a 5-4 shootout loss.
But here we are two weeks later with the Wings riding a six-game win streak, still on top of the Western Conference and holding a five-point edge in the Central Division, and all is well. Heck, it’s more than well, it’s pretty damn good. All thanks to the rise of Joey MacDonald, who stepped in for Conklin in the second period of the Oilers loss and hasn’t stepped out since.
Because of MacDonald, it can honestly be said that the Wings not only survived the Jimmy Howard injury, but came out of it a better team. For one, they now have a backup that looks to be reliable when they need to rest Howard. They’re small sample sizes, sure, but MacDonald’s 6-1-1 record, along with a 1.66 goals-against and .934 save percentage is head and shoulders above the 3-5/3.40/.878 line that Conklin has put up. Thanks to that, the Wings put Conklin on waivers today, something that certainly doesn’t come as a surprise after the last two weeks.
Howard is going to be the guy in the playoffs, there’s no question. But spelling him here or there down the stretch and still having a good shot at picking up two points is a nice luxury to have.
Speaking of resting Howard, he’s rested. Two weeks off had to be a good thing for a goaltender who had played in 84.6% of his team’s games. Had that continued, Howard would have played 69 games this season. And something tells me that in a tight race and with Conklin still struggling, it could have very easily been over 70. That’s a lot for a guy you’re expecting to play every game through the postseason (he’s played 63 games in each of the last two regular seasons). In the past five years, Cup-winning goaltenders have played 56 (Jean-Sebastien Giguere), 43 (Chris Osgood), 62 (Marc-Andre Fleury), 39 (Antti Niemi) and 57 (Tim Thomas) games.
So no matter what, losing Howard for two weeks would have been a win in that sense. Thanks to MacDonald, however, it was a win-win for the Wings.