Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings Looks Steady, Despite Loss

Matt HutterAnalyst IApril 15, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 14:  Goaltender Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a glove save on the shot from the Phoenix Coyotes in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on April 14, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Red Wings 3-2 to take a 1-0 series lead. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Who says hockey doesn't belong in Phoenix?

Judging by the 17,000-plus hockey fans who flooded Jobing.com Arena on Wednesday night, some paying upwards of $400 per ticket to do so, NHL hockey is very much alive in Arizona.

And this just wasn't a bunch of know-nothing gawkers that came out to see playoff hockey in the desert for the first time in eight years, these fans knew what to do at a hockey game.

They cheered when the penalty-killers cleared the zone, they erupted when their team laid on a big hit, they shook the walls when the home-team scored, and they made sure that Detroit's rookie goalie received a warm welcome.

It's true, they chanted throughout the game - HOW-ARD! HOW-ARD! HOW-ARD!

Yep, Arizonians (a few thousand of them anyway) know how to get under a goalie's skin.

Or do they?

Jimmy Howard now has exactly 59 minutes and 20 seconds of playoff hockey under his belt.

As thoroughly wet behind the ears as he is, it stands to reason that the pressure he faced both from the Phoenix Coyotes on the ice and their rabid fans in the stands, would leave the guy a little shell-shocked.

Don't bet on it.

Jimmy Howard has been carrying around the cumbersome expectations of a 19th-straight playoff appearance, sometimes, despite all odds, for most of this season.

If he was prone to shell-shock, Detroit would have seen it by now.

Despite the loss, Jimmy Howard looked as solid as he has for most of this season in his first playoff start.

His positioning was sound, he made several good stops, and didn't appear rattled by the goals he let in or the pressure from the crowd.

Though he let in one more goal than his opponent at the other end of the ice, the loss the Wings suffered could hardly be blamed on Howard.

Though they've lingered in the basement of the league all season long in power-play percentage, the Coyotes took advantage of Detroit's loose and disorganized penalty-killing unit and scored all three of their goals while on the man-advantage.

Among the league's best down the stretch, Detroit's lackluster, rather, make that abysmal penalty-killing in Game One cost them a victory.

Now, while it's technically true that a team's best penalty-killer must be their goalie, leaving him out to dry (something the Wings did twice) on a penalty-kill doesn't give him a very good chance to prove his worth.

Had Howard received the support he should have in Game One, he likely would have earned his first NHL playoff victory.

The Wings know what they need to work on now, in addition to a porous penalty-kill, the Wings let up the pressure halfway through the game, a trend they can ill-afford to continue. However, worrying about their rookie goalie's play in net isn't one of them.

It's tough to make much out the first game of a seven-game series, but, if Howard's play on Wednesday night is any indication, Detroit should be fine in goal moving forward.

After all, he's the guy that got them here.