Last season, when the Detroit Red Wings were facing their final four regular-season games, they knew that winning all four of them was the only way they’d make the playoffs.
Goalie Jimmy Howard was sensational down the stretch, allowing just three goals over those last four games and posting two shutouts along the way. Howard had his team set upon his shoulders and proved to them and the world that he was capable of carrying it with aplomb.
While this season is not last season, Howard still holds the fate of his team in his catching glove and still has something to prove.
Only two of these teams are headed to the postseason. However, with Pittsburgh still impacted by injuries, the season-closing tilt against St. Louis figures to be the loan improbable win to be had among the bunch.
Of late, the Red Wings have had no trouble finding the back of the net. They’ve averaged 3.2 goals per game over their past five contests and are getting contributions up and down the lineup.
Aside from a red-hot Gustav Nyquist, the Red Wings have had Daniel Alfredsson, Darren Helm, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Niklas Kronwall and Luke Glendening all show up on the score sheet the past few games.
This kind of balanced scoring is just what a team needs on the offensive side of the puck this time of year, and the Red Wings are giving themselves what they need just in time.
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What’s more, considering the goals-against average of their next four opponents, Detroit doesn’t figure to have much trouble continuing this trend.
If Detroit loses a game, it likely won’t be due to lack of offense.
Enter Jimmy Howard.
Howard has had a regrettably forgettable year by any measure.
His previous trend of 30-plus wins per season (excluding last season’s lockout-shortened campaign in which Howard won 21 games in 42 starts) is now a thing of the past.
Howard can, at best, finish the year with 24 wins.
Howard had finished the previous two seasons with an excellent 2.13 goals-against average.
This season, Howard is on pace for an NHL career-worst 2.68 goals-against average.
Since the 2009-10 season, Jimmy Howard has been nothing but a rock between the pipes for the Detroit Red Wings. So, his uncharacteristically subpar performance this season was as unexpected as it was damaging to the team.
However, of late, Howard has picked up his game considerably, in no more spectacular fashion than his solid performance against the Atlantic Division Champion Boston Bruins on April 2.
Nevertheless, given his decidedly mediocre season, there remains some doubt as to whether Howard can maintain his level of performance down the stretch and into the playoffs.
As Detroit’s offensive potential seems beyond question at this point, the ability to keep the puck out of its own net is still something of a mystery.
Howard has the ability to put an entire team on his back, as he demonstrated around this same time last season.
However, this season, Howard need only to carry his own weight for the team to succeed.
That should be a reassuring thought to his team and fans alike. Nevertheless, given his performance for most of this season, Howard still has a little more proof to provide that he can do just that.