Will Chris Osgood Be Red Wings' Hero or Goat Sunday Against Blackhawks?

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IDecember 20, 2009

DETROIT - MAY 19:  Goalie Chris Osgood #30 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on during pregame against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the Western Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 19, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Ideally, given all of the players out of their lineup, the one thing the Detroit Red Wings should be able to rely on is goaltending.

A goalie with three Stanley Cup championships and four wins shy of 400 for his career should provide a level of net confidence virtually unmatched by any other net minder in the league.

Unless, of course, you're Chris Osgood.

Before I go further, let me say now that I am an Osgood fan and supporter.  I believe the good he has done for this franchise enormously outweighs the bad.

Nevertheless, I also believe that Osgood's biggest weakness has always been his game-to-game consistency.

I've seen him follow up brilliant 30-plus save shutout performances with putrid five goals on 17 shots debacles.

Though Osgood is capable of turning into an absolute rock in goal during the playoffs, as a work-a-day regular season goalie, he's always been a bit of a mixed bag.

This tendency to run hot and cold has only increased over the past two seasons.

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Though his numbers through 17 games played this season aren't all that much better (2.70 GAA, .900 save percentage) than they were last year, the worst of his career, he has played better than he did in 2008-09.

However, as rookie goalie Jimmy Howard has been the hotter of the two in net, Osgood's starts have been fewer than most starters' in the NHL.

His next game, Sunday in Chicago, is important for several reasons.

First, it will provide a huge emotional lift to this decimated roster if they could actually come out of the United Center with two points.

Second, as they are now tied in points and games played with the ninth-place Dallas Stars, earning points isn't something they can wait around for.

Lastly, it's against the freakin' Blackhawks, a team that went from punk overachievers, meeting the Wings in the Western Conference Finals last year, to odds on favorites to win the Stanley Cup in the span of just months.

Given their injuries and the age of their healthy players, the Red Wings cannot realistically plan to outscore the young and vigorous Hawks in order to win.

If they have any chance at all, every player on the ice will need to play a safe, patient, defensively responsible game.

They'll also need great (not just good) goaltending.

That's just what they've been getting from Jimmy Howard of late. That is, until Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars.

Howard allowed those four goals amidst 21 shots, two of which were of the "soft" variety.

Though Osgood was always slated to get the start in Chicago, a game-stealing performance by Howard may have caused head coach Mike Babcock to reconsider his plans.

Now, facing the Blackhawks and coming off a loss—resulting not from a depleted roster, but shaky goaltending—what Detroit needs now is a great performance by Osgood.

Osgood was the winning goalie in the Red Wings' only game to date against the Blackhawks this season, a 32 save 3-2 win in Detroit.  So, there is recent evidence that beating Chicago is something he can do.

Osgood has the talent and experience to steal this one for his team. Unfortunately, he's also capable of being it's weakest link.

Which Ozzie will show up in net tomorrow is anyone's guess.

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