Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings: Can Jimmy Howard Backstop the Wings to Another Title?

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings is is introduced prior to playing the Ottawa Senators at Joe Louis Arena on October 7, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 5-3. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Isaac SmithAnalyst IOctober 11, 2011

The Detroit Red Wings are 2-0 in this young season, but don't let that record fool you.

Detroit has played two of the worst teams in the NHL to open their season, beating Ottawa 5-3 and shutting out Colorado 3-0.

But why is this Detroit Red Wings team different than last year's squad who also started 2-0?

Their goaltending is the key so far.

Ty Conklin's shutout against Colorado certainly seems to overshadow Jimmy Howard's effort against the Senators in the opener, but Howard was solid and deserves more credit for his play against Ottawa.

The first goal he never saw, and the third goal he never saw either, while the second one he was hung out to dry by his penalty killers.

At the end of the night, Howard's numbers will look the same as last season. A 3.00 GAA and a 90.6 save percentage. Not great overall, but upon closer insight, one will see that he clearly played better.

So what does this mean going forward?

For starters, expect Howard's numbers to improve, as the penalty kill improves. Detroit's penalty kill was successful just once in three tries against Ottawa, but was perfect against Colorado.

Jimmy Howard has posted back-to-back 37-win seasons. But aside from wins he did not have his past regular season numbers this season that he had during his rookie season.

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings talks with Ty Conklin #29 during introductions prior to playing the Ottawa Senators at Joe Louis Arena on October 7, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 5-3. (Photo by Gregor
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Many attribute this to Detroit's more offensively-focused game last season, as Detroit's defense slipped to 23rd overall in goals-against per game, from seventh in the NHL in 2009-10.

Expect coach Mike Babcock to make due changes to tweak his defense and apply more pressure to offenses in the Detroit end.

Howard can make the big saves when the Red Wings need him to, but he cannot be left out to dry consistently as seemed to be the case last year.

Howard showed that he could be stellar last season in the playoffs as well, disproving (at least in the playoffs) the myth of the "sophomore slump."

Howard put up a respectable 92.3 save percentage, and a 2.50 GAA, despite going 7-4 after sweeping the Coyotes in the first round.

If the Wings can get past the second round, Howard can be the game-changer that they've been looking for in net.

There's a reason that Howard is Detroit's starting goalie, and he wouldn't be there if Detroit GM Ken Holland didn't think he could win; and just between you and I, Holland knows a little something about winning.

Expect a turn-around season for Howard this time around. He could be a Vezina Trophy finalist if Detroit plays well enough in front of him, and he could certainly bring hockey's holy grail back to Detroit this season.

 

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