Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard became the full-time starter in the 2009-10 season. As a goalie, he's already racked up 118 regular-season wins in his short career. On the surface, those numbers look very impressive, but he has also been privileged enough to be playing on some very good teams and behind a good defense. While the Red Wings are going through a small transition with the retirement of future Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, it is a legitimate question to ask whether or not the Red Wings can win a Stanley Cup with Howard in goal.
Howard, who was named an All-Star in 2012, looked to be the Red Wings' long-term answer between the pipes. Yet it seems he has regressed.
Before the 2011-12 All-Star break, Howard played in 42 games and had a record of 30-11-1 to go along with 2.03 goals against average, a .924 save percentage and five shutouts. Then injuries hit the Red Wings and Howard broke his finger on Feb. 2, 2012, never fully getting back into the groove.
With several other Red Wings injured, the team struggled down the stretch and Howard's play was pedestrian. He only played in 15 games after the All-Star break and had a record of 5-6-3 with 2.38 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and only one shutout.
Besides the win-loss record, Howard's numbers look decent. But he didn't dominate the games and struggled in some losses. In losses, Howard's goals against average jumped to 3.20 and his save percentage lowered to .882. With numbers like those, he didn't give the Red Wings much of a chance to stay in games.
In the first round of the playoffs against the Nashville Predators, Howard didn't step up his game. He was outplayed by goalie Pekka Rinne and the Red Wings lost in five games.
This season appears to be more of the same. Howard has an 8-7-2 record, 2.83 goals against average and a .903 save percentage. Earlier in the season, the defense had a rash of injuries again and Howard hasn't been able to elevate his game. In losses, Howard has 3.61 goals against average and a .876 save percentage.
Yet, for all the injuries to the defense, they have played remarkably well—a situation helped out by 22-year-old defenseman Brian Lashoff, who has been a huge surprise in this abbreviated season.
If the Red Wings are to succeed down the stretch and in the playoffs, Howard must do better.
To date, Howard has been average in the playoffs and it always seems that the other team's goalie has been superior to Howard. For his playoff career, Howard has a 13-15 record with 2.63 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.
To give an example, compared against goalies who played at least one game in the 2012 playoffs, Howard was ranked 16th overall in goals against average with 2.64 and 17th overall with a save percentage of .888.
While some may argue that the numbers were skewed since it was only in five games, how may times have the Red Wings been beaten by a hot goalie in a series? Now, do you think Howard could ever be that goalie for the Red Wings?
The Red Wings need to determine if a 28-year-old goalie, who is a free agent at the end of the season, is the long-term answer in net.
Have the Red Wings seen the best there is of Howard? Or can he rise to the challenge and win 16 games in the playoffs to hoist the Stanley Cup?
Red Wings goalies in the past, like Chris Osgood, have been accused of being a product of the Red Wings' success and playing behind great teams. At the end of the day, Osgood could still raise the Stanley Cup and call himself a champion. He may not have needed to steal games on his own, but he did rise to the occasion when needed.
The Red Wings now need that goalie that can carry the team and be a star. The jury is still out on whether Howard is that player—and the clock is ticking.
*All statistics are as of Mar. 1