Joey MacDonald Makes NHL History, Case for Steady Job After Journeyman Career

Jay Bruno@JayBrunoSportsContributor IIIFebruary 20, 2012

Joey MacDonald began his journey in 2001 when he signed with the Detroit Red Wings as an undrafted free agent. His career was to consist of many stops and many stints in the AHL; however through it all MacDonald worked on his game, worked hard, and maintained a positive outlook. Eventually his path led to an historic push for the longest home win streak in NHL history, where he put his stamp on the accomplishment by backstopping the Red Wings in the final march past the record previously held by the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers and the 1929-30 Boston Bruins.

Now it appears he has won the confidence of his teammates in the process, and the backup job permanently, not only this year but potentially in the future as well.   

MacDonald's journeyman career started with a weak Toledo Storm team in the ECHL after being signed by the Red Wings. His numbers were good enough to justify a promotion to the AHL the following season with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

He slowly worked his way up the ranks, eventually winning the full time starter position for the 2004-05 season, and impressed with a 2.29 GAA and 0.926 SV% in 66 games; however he saw himself sharing time with tauted Red Wings prospects and draft picks Jimmy Howard and Drew MacIntyre the following season. It was clear the Red Wings wanted to work on developing Howard, and that meant MacDonald sharing time despite an outstanding season the year before.

In the 2006-07 season, MacDonald was considered the backup to Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood, but was eventually waived and claimed by the Boston Bruins before signing a deal with the New York Islanders the following offseason. He was again assigned to the AHL, and again posted strong numbers including a GAA of 2.89, good enough to win the backup job behind Rick DiPietro in 2008. DiPietro suffered an injury to start the season and MacDonald, for the first time in his career, was a full-time starting NHL netminder.

That season he played 49 games and posted a 3.37 GAA and 0.901 SV%, however wasn't resigned, and after the season found a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs who again sent him to the AHL before trading him to the Anaheim Ducks where he never played a game.

In 2010 he signed with the Detroit Red Wings, with expectations of playing in the AHL. In early February of 2012 MacDonald got an opportunity to join the Red Wings roster backing Ty Conklin after Jimmy Howard broke his finger.

By this time, the Red Wings were in the midst of a 17 game home winning streak with Howard starting all 17 wins. People were starting to talk about the all-time win streak record and the possibility of the Red Wings exceeding it, but it started to look increasingly unlikely with Conklin struggling and MacDonald inexperienced. There was serious discussion about acquiring a goaltender to get the Wings through Howard's injury, and serve as a more reliable backup going into the playoffs.

In the first game after Howard's injury Conklin started against the Edmonton Oilers on the road letting up three goals on nine shots in the first period, and was replaced by MacDonlad. The Wings rallied to send the game to overtime as MacDonald provided a spark making 23 saves and salvaging an important point in the standings.

MacDonald has started every game since.

The Red Wings returned to Joe Louis Arena a few days later to start a six game homestand. With the home win streak at 17 games, the Wings would either end the streak or break the record during the next six games.

No one on the roster would admit to thinking about the record, but it was clear from the playoff-like atmosphere at the Joe that everyone wanted it. MacDonald found himself facing history head on, his teammates relying on him to play well and give them a chance to win. The pressure was real, but MacDonald would prove it was pressure he could handle.

During the homestand, he posted a GAA of 1.64 and was one of the stars of the game four times as the Wings won all six games.

The streak is now at 23 games and counting.

It would have been perfectly reasonable for the third string journeyman goaltender fresh from the AHL to lose a close game ending the streak—in fact most people expected it—but MacDonald wouldn't let it happen. He had worked too hard throughout his career not to give it his best when things got meaningful.

Now his efforts are getting rewarded—the Red Wings announced Monday afternoon that Ty Conkiln was being placed on waivers to make room for Joey MacDonald as the full-time backup goaltender.

With MacDonald being signed through next season, he has a shot of becoming the backup next year, and perhaps beyond.

His teammates have confidence in him, his coach has confidence in him, and his general manager has confidence in him.

One only needs to look at the last game on the recent homestand—win No. 23—to know this is true. Jimmy Howard was back from injury, and the streak was still on the line with the Red Wings fighting tooth and nail with the St. Louis Blues for the top spot in the Central Division. The Blues have lost only three games at home compared to the Wings' two, so home ice advantage may mean everything in a potential playoff matchup.

Yet even though Howard was available, Babcock went with MacDonald, and was rewarded with perhaps MacDonald's best effort yet making 31 saves against rival San Jose.

Howard will reclaim the starting job, probably next game in Chicago, but MacDonald is here to stay. At age 32 he may have finally found a steady job, at least for a little while.

In any case one thing is set in stone. MacDonald was in net playing the best hockey of his career when the Wings tied the NHL record for home wins, and again when the Wings broke it.

He heard his name chanted in a stadium that has seen so many greats.  

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