Jonas Gustavsson earned a win in his first start as a member of the Detroit Red Wings Thursday as the Wings defeated the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in a shootout. It was likely the first of many scheduled games off for Jimmy Howard, who should benefit from the rest.
The Red Wings signed Gustavsson to a two-year $3 million contract in the offseason with the hope that he would be a solid, reliable backup to Howard. And, given this season’s condensed schedule due to the lockout, having an experienced backup is even more important.
Unfortunately, Gustavsson has been dealing with a groin injury since the season started and has spent time on injured reserve. Prior to Thursday’s start he had appeared in just two games in relief of Howard.
The Red Wings have therefore relied heavily on Howard, who started 18 of the team’s first 20 games. Howard is a good goaltender and will likely be the starter in Detroit for the next five-plus seasons, however, he isn’t accustomed to carrying so much of the workload.
Only Ilya Bryzgalov, Pekka Rinne and Ryan Miller have played more games than Howard this year. Although these are elite netminders who have played well, they aren’t among the NHL’s best statistically this season.
Goaltenders such as Craig Anderson, Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi and Carey Price, who have played 14 to 16 games as opposed to 18 to 20, have posted better GAAs and save percentages.
With Gustavsson healthy, Howard will be able to rest more often which should work to his advantage like it has for Anderson, Rask, etc. For example, when the Red Wings have three games in four nights Gustavsson will likely start one of those games. A little more rest should help Howard’s GAA to go down and his save percentage to go up.
At this point, Howard is 8-7-3 with a GAA of 2.83, a save percentage of .903 and one shutout.
The Red Wings should also feel more confident playing in front of Gustavsson, as opposed to one of their AHL netminders. While Petr Mrazek has the potential to be a starter someday, he isn’t ready yet and certainly doesn’t have the experience that Gustavsson has.
And while it may have just been one game, Gustavsson showed Thursday against the Sharks that he’s healthy and in fine form. He stopped 25 shots in regulation and overtime, as well as all three shootout attempts. Not bad for a goaltender who has had very limited playing time over the last couple months.
Gustavsson may not be good enough to be a starter, but he will help take the pressure off Jimmy Howard and provide the 28-year-old with some much needed rest.