Both Jimmy Howard and the Detroit Red Wings are enduring one of the worst seasons in recent memory. The Red Wings have a 12-35-4 record and 28 points so far this season, which is 13 points behind both the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings for second-worst in the NHL.
Detroit’s poor play has its fans harkening back to the days of the “Dead Wings” era that spanned from 1967-1982. The team has surrendered the most goals with 199 and scored the least with 109.
It’s been bad all the way around for Detroit this season. The defence is struggling to stop opponents, and few players other than the top line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha are scoring.
However, it’s been really bad for Howard in net as he’s now 2-19-2 with a 4.12 goals-against-average and .883 save percentage. The Ogdensburg, NY native has lost 16 straight starts with his last win happening on Oct. 29 against the Edmonton Oilers.
Howard has been splitting time with Jonathan Bernier in net, but a lower-body injury has made Howard the de facto number one starter. Bernier won’t be back until February and that means Howard will get the starts unless Jeff Blashill feels like playing Calvin Pickard.
Jimmy Howard Trying to Find Form
Howard has shown some flashes of his old All-Star self including a 35-save effort in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 17. He also turned aside 40 shots in a Jan. 20 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
The 35-year-old has broken the 30-save barrier 11 times this season and Red Wings goalies have faced 1,663 shots so far this season. That total is good enough for third-most behind the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets.
However, Howard has had a few stinkers this season as he was recently pulled on Jan. 14 against the New York Islanders after giving up three goals on seven shots. The 11-year veteran is easily in the worst stretch of his career. Jan. 20’s game against the Minnesota Wild summed up what’s been going on with him. Detroit held a 2-1 lead after one period, but Howard gave up three goals in 10 minutes and 27 seconds.
Detroit has given up goals in bunches — when the young defence loses confidence, the goalies face a high volume of shots. The Red Wings already face an uphill climb, but having a league-worst -233 shot differential doesn’t help no matter who is in the net.
Howard has been up and down in recent years from his career-best save percentage of .923 that he posted in 2012-13. He did record a .927 save percentage in 2016-17, but he only appeared in 26 games.
Last year’s campaign was his worst statistically as he gave up over three goals a game for the first time that he was a full-time starter. He also didn’t get a shutout in a season for the first time in his career. Age and playing behind a struggling defence will skew numbers, but Howard’s play has to be better.
Despite the frustrations, Howard is staying strong. He’s been working hard with goalie coach Jeff Salajko and is still maintaining his confidence. “I know I can do it,” Howard said to MLive.com. “Sooner or later the hard work is going to pay off, I believe. I can’t over-analyze things. Quit thinking out there and use my hockey instincts.”
Blashill added Howard hasn’t shown bad body language or been down on himself. Holding on like that can be hard with the amount of loss and struggles in Howard’s game.
What it Means for the Future
Howard’s struggles come at a bad time as the team nears the trade deadline. The veteran netminder becomes a free agent this off-season and would love to earn a new deal. However, the team could deal him for picks and prospects to a team that needs a veteran goalie.
Detroit’s veterans and possible trade chips like Mike Green and Trevor Daley have struggled as well. General manager Steve Yzerman would love to get something out of these older players for a team that might need some experienced players.
Teams may be hesitant in taking a risk on a struggling player at the deadline. There are plenty of other options that have played better so far this season.
However, there’s still a month for Howard to turn things around. A strong stretch of games could help him get that new contract or a new home at the deadline.
Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. (Getty Images)