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Red Wings Back Up Goalie Jimmy Howard Might (finally) Be Ready for NHL

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst ISeptember 30, 2009

MONTREAL- SEPTEMBER 30:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings readies for a shot during the game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on September 30, 2008 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Canadiens defeated the Red Wings 2-1 in a shootout.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Over the past 15 seasons, those in which Detroit's goal-tending has not been labeled as "questionable" by pundits and prognosticators seem few and far between.

I remember people liking Vernon in 1997, I think everyone thought Hasek would be great in 2002...yep, I think that's it.

Every other season that I can remember during this time, Detroit's goal-tending was in question.

Despite the fact that they've won four Cups during this time, the concerns (or hopes, depending on how you feel about the Wings) expressed regarding the Red Wings' goal-tending are almost automatic at this point.

As reflexive as these have become, I think this year, perhaps more than any other, the concerns are valid.

Undisputed No. 1 netminder, Chris Osgood, had an outstanding playoffs last season.

However, his regular season numbers were the worst of his career and, were it not for the solid play of departed back-up, Ty Conklin, the Wings may very well have finished out of the top three in playoff seeding.

This year, the Wings do not have the luxury of a proven back-up like Ty Conklin on the roster.

No, those duties have been passed solely on to 25-year-old Jimmy Howard.

Howard (drafted in 2003) was a star at the University of Maine, where several of his records still stand.

At the time he was drafted, he was quickly dubbed as Detroit's "goalie of the future."

Management felt that perhaps all he needed was a couple of seasons in the AHL before he was ready for regular, perhaps even starting duties, with the big club.

Seven years later, Howard will suit up for his first regular season in the NHL.

Howard has been called up before, but, in seven starts has come away with only one win.

Thus, the fears about Detroit's goal-tending for the 2009-10 season seem somewhat justified.

However, having seen the last two exhibition games the Wings have played, one against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the other (just concluded) against Farjestad, a Swedish Elite League team, I think Howard may finally be ready for the NHL.

Admittedly, the game against the Penguins on Sunday wasn't exactly one that would have a goalie shaking in his skates.

Both Sidney Crosby and Evegeni Malking were out.

However, watching Howard in the opening minutes of the game, one could see there was a comfort level and confidence that, to that point, had yet to be displayed by the young keeper.

He came up strong on several shots throughout the game, including a penalty shot by Jordan Stall.

The lone goal he surrendered deflected off a Detroit skate and came as the result of a rebound he gave up making a sprawling and impressive left pad save.

Today, facing a very talented, yet not exactly NHL level team in Farjestad, Howard looked great again.

His positioning was solid, his movement efficient and his play was relaxed and comfortable.

He surrendered two goals in the 6-2 Detroit win, but he was screened on both of these shots, each of them quick wristers from the top of the circles.

Though both of these games are essentially meaningless, Jimmy Howard has to feel some level of accomplishment in posting back to back wins as the starting goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings.

Bottom line, if Howard plays this season the way he has these past two games, then I think the Wings depth in goal will be increased dramatically.

This still might not be enough to quiet those who doubt the Wings' net strength, but would nevertheless provide a solid tandem for the Wings to move forward with.

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