Being the starting goaltender in Hockeytown comes with much scrutiny. You could ask all prior goaltenders who have laced up between the pipes for the Red Wings. It is hard to sway a fanbase over truly backing their goalie for an 82-game season plus an extended postseason run.
Yet, through all the years of dominance, the Red Wings have been able to count on reliable goaltending tandems.
The first tandem helped lead the Red Wings to their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. Goaltender Mike Vernon was entering his third season in Detroit. And a young Chris Osgood was understudy to Vernon who was a Stanley Cup Champion with the Flames back in 1988-1989.
Both goalies split time between the pipes that season. But it was Vernon who started during the playoffs and was left hoisting his second Stanley Cup and breaking Detroit's 42-year Stanley Cup drought.
As Osgood was still in Detroit, the Red Wings were waiting for young goaltender Manny Legace to become ready to play in the NHL. The team thought Legace was ready for the NHL in the 2001-2002 season and made a major free agent splash by signing NHL legend Dominik Hasek. Legace rarely saw time in net for Detroit but was a reliable backup to the "Dominator." They went on to win their third Stanley Cup in five seasons.
Osgood would add another Stanley Cup to his trophy case in 2008 with an aging Hasek helping along the way. Ozzie took his game into overdrive after the team fell two games to none against the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. He took the starter's role and never relinquished it.
Both took time between the pipes that season. But both goaltenders also aided in the development of a young Jimmy Howard as an understudy. It wasn't until the 2009-2010 season that Howard was given full-time work in the net for Detroit.
The then 25-year-old had a stellar rookie season with a 37-15-13 record, .924 save percentage and a 2.26 GAA (via nhl.com). Those numbers were able to get him a nod for the Calder Trophy for that season. But they would not be enough as Buffalo's Tyler Myers walked away with the award.
Howard's numbers haven't deviated much during his brief three-season NHL career. Each season he has started at least 55 games and won at least 35 games. His 2.13 GAA in 2011-2012 was good enough to be fifth-best in the NHL and he already has 11 shutouts to boot (via nhl.com).
Next season will be crucial for Howard. He will be in the final year of his two-year, $4.5 million contract extension that was first reported by Mlive in 2011. He is also coming off an injury-plagued season that started with a broken index finger to pulling his groin twice in the same month as reported by Brendan Savage of Mlive on March 20.
There was no capable backup to protect Howard last season. Ty Conklin fizzled out early last season and Joey MacDonald had a solid month of hockey before he ended up injuring his back, costing him the rest of the season.
Detroit addressed that need by signing Jonas Gustavsson on July 1. Nicknamed "The Monster," Gustavsson went to the hockey hotbed of Toronto in hopes of leading the team to the playoffs for the first time since the NHL lockout of 2004-2005.
Some nights Gustavsson would steal the show in T.O. and help secure wins for the franchise. Other nights he was a vanishing act that left the Toronto defense to carry the load. He was just never able to establish a consistency that allowed him to become the permanent solution to Toronto's never-ending goaltending problem.
As Gustavsson begins a new journey in his NHL career in Detroit, he hopes to find a way to tap that potential Maple Leafs fans clamored for.
The 27-year-old Swede told Ansar Khan on Mlive shortly after being signed to a two-year, $3 million contract that "I feel that was the right move for me to keep my development going in the right direction...and in order to keep doing that I felt coming to Detroit was the best choice for me."
Working with goaltending coach Jim Bedard and getting some useful insight from Chris Osgood will have endless benefits for this young goaltender's game. He will have two seasons to work extensively with the goaltending staff to try and push for more starts in the crease.
And with that will come a reputable net tandem. Howard hopes to reciprocate the numbers from last season while Gustavsson only can hope to emulate even a fraction of those statistics while getting 30 starts in net.
It will be those projected 30 starts that will make or break this next season for Gustavsson and the Red Wings. Howard will be the go-to goalie. Add in the Monster and Detroit now boasts the next net tandem to aide in a long postseason run.
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