Howard turning the corner for Red Wings

Maybe I was wrong. In fact, I hope I was wrong.

Earlier in the year, I had said that Jimmy Howard was not the future of the Red Wings in net. But he's well on his way on his way to proving me wrong. Now, in no way am I saying or implying that Howard is already there but what I am saying is that he is making the progress. 

Fresh off an impressive performance against the Dallas Stars, stopping 29 of 30 shots, Howard has something going for him that is very important. Confidence. Fox Sports Detroit analyst and former Red Wing Mickey Redmond made a simple yet accurate statement about Howard during last night's game against the Stars, "Way to go Jimmy-boy, the confidence is growing!" More than any other position, confidence goes a long way as a netminder. You can have all the skills in the world but if you have no confidence that you can make a difference in the game then you are ordinary. Howard has been touted to us all as the next big thing in net for Detroit, possessing all of the skills necessary to be a star. Those skills were often in question during the days of grooming in the AHL, but ultimately Ken Holland decided that he was ready for the big time after passing on re-signing Ty Conklin.

The big question remained though: whether or not he could in fact make that transition between the AHL and the NHL. So far, he is passing the test and improving every time out. Admittedly, he started the season horribly by giving up a few soft goals to the St. Louis Blues during the second game of the year in Stockholm. After that though, he improved nearly aspect of his game and has made his case for competing for the start in net every night.

The biggest adjustment from the AHL to the NHL for a goalie is the speed of the game. The players are faster, the shots are faster, the pace of the game is faster; nearly everything happens at light speed by comparison. The best way to adjust to this is by play minutes of live games. His minutes have increased and his performances have gotten better as the season chugs along. He's seeing the puck better on passes and shots, reading plays before they develop, learning to see the puck better through moving screens, and adjusting to having to put forth 100% every night for a win. 

Last night was a microcosm of Howard's success this year. He had a few types of plays that he still needs to work on but overall he was covering the net effectively and had good angles on shooters. The play below stuck out to me as a good example of improved game:

Howard does three things impressive to me on this play. First, he deals with the player crashing the net effectively; taking away the angle for a pass from Ribiero to Morrow. Second, he stops Ribiero. Simple sounding but there were no defenders between Ribiero and Howard at the time of the shot and he had a great angle on the shot and was quick enough getting the pads down to stop it. Although he gave up a rebound, he did the third impressive thing: he stayed with the play. He stay down on the ice stopping the puck at least twice on stuff attempts by Ribiero and then waited until the time was right to get his feet back underneath--something Chris Osgood has been criticized for this year. 

The above play is a simple example but shows how he has improved. He has greatly improved on his angles to shooters, he goes down to the butterfly at the right time, and has quickness to pop up and reset for more shots on net. Howard has come a long way in the short amount of time this year and we can only hope that there is more room before he reaches the cap of his potential. Personally, I believe that if he keeps up this type of play and progression of his game, we will see Chris Osgood on the bench more and more and Howard the one being greeted by teammates at the conclusion of each game.

Statistical look at Howard's season after the jump...

Let's take a quick look at Howard's stats:

 Stat  Howard (rank)
GAA   2.56 (16th)
 Wins  7 (T-21st)
 Losses  4 (T-12th)
 Save Percentage  .907 (T-27th)

 

Another look at his stats by games lost:

 

St. Louis 5-2, 27 of 32 saved: Okay, that was just a bad game...not much to it.
Colorado 3-1, 20 of 22 (EN): Not so much Howard losing the game but Craig Anderson winning it for the Avs. Anderson was stopping nearly everything that night so the Colorado attack was free to take some risks that a team normally wouldn't take.
Edmonton 6-5 (SO), 28 of 33: Apparently, no one wanted to play defense for either team that night.
Dallas 3-1, 29 of 32: Ah the infamous Brad May no goal could have swung this one the other way for Howard's W-L record.
Atlanta 2-0, 23 of 25: Similar to Colorado game, Pavelec was amazing at the other end and a defense can only hold an attack led by Ilya Kovalchuk for so long.
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