Way back in the preseason, WIIM went ahead and broke down every position, line, and player on the depth chart. Of course, this was before the busted groin became the next Motown fad. Goaltenders received mixed marks, and the end-of-season analysis shows the Wings had issues well beyond the quality of the players playing. It is possible to write a piece complaining about the injury bug, but life isn't fair, and nor were the seasons of Detroit's backstoppers.
*Note: Petr Mrazek only played nine games, and as a result will not be evaluated in this post.
Believe it or not, there wasn't a dramatically huge drop-off in the performance of the Red Wings between the two mainstays overall. At even strength, Jimmy Howard had a save percentage of .925 and Gustavsson a .913. Jimmy played 51 games, a substantially lower percentage than last season, while Gustavsson played 27 and Mrazek the other nine.
The whole "the team plays better in front of the Monster" argument dies with the above statistics alone. The Red Wings do score more goals with Gustavsson in net, sure, but the PDO (save percentage + shooting percentage) is only 1.4 points higher with him in net than Jimmy. In short, the Wings score more goals on average with Gus in the net, but they give up more as well.
All things considered, Jimmy had a 2.66 GAA overall, which came in as the 33rd best overall in the league. That's...not what Detroit is used to seeing out of their starting netminder. If you're a person who wants to burn the statistic into oblivion, go right ahead, but it's a cardinal statistic when evaluating goaltenders and will be for a long, long time.
Jimmy dealt with injuries all season, sure, with a knee injury standing out the most. However, he really never showed the rock-solid confidence that was expected out of him when he was healthy. Jimmy followed up several stellar performances with putrid outings, and spent the entire season going up and down a roller coaster that made life difficult for the team playing in front of him.
The results are the worst numbers the goaltender has seen since a sophomore slump in 2010-11. He posted a 21-19-11 record to go with a .910 SV% and the aforementioned sub-par GAA.
Jimmy never got the help he needed from the team in front of him, and he had to sort out many issues of his own playing behind a team that had even more wrinkles in its own shirt due for an ironing job. It's hard to give an accurate reading on Jimmy Howard based on the multitude of issues put on his plate this year, but the fact is his inconsistency is killing him, and a grand majority of the fans are starting to lose faith. It's only a matter of time before management does too.
Jimmy was stellar in the playoffs for the three games he played (until he caught the flu). Last year, Jimmy Howard was the cardinal reason other than Henrik Zetterberg why the Red Wings made it 22 straight and upset the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. This year, he was just too inconsistent and didn't have things figured out, clearly. It was a combination of both controllable and uncontrollable factors, and one can only question whether or not he plays out the remainder of his current contract in a Detroit uniform.
Jimmy just needs to be more consistent. Until then, he'll be hearing the critics all the way until his swan song.
Jonas Gustavsson sucked at goaltending in Toronto. While he has moved on from sucking at goaltending in Detroit, he sucks at one main thing: staying healthy.
The Monster is never not on the injured reserve more than a gagillion times in a season, and while that's great for throwing Petr Mrazek Costco-esque free samples at the NHL level, the backup is not supposed to be the one getting injured.
When he was healthy, however, Gustavsson proved to be a pretty strong goaltender, winning 16 games in 27 starts. Not to mention, out of Gustavsson's nine total losses, five of them came in regulation, his fewest surrendered since coming over to North America to play professionally. He also started the season 8-0-1 at a time where Jimmy Howard wasn't at his best or even on the bench, only to cool off in the latter half of the season.
Though Gustavsson gives everyone a heart attack the way he over-challenges the puck, among other things, he has shown a step in the right direction, and he's made several highlight-reel saves in the process. (Sometimes, those highlight-reel saves are due to the fact that he overplays the initial shot and is almost always out of position for the rebound opportunity. He'll get the benefit of the doubt, though). His statistics could definitely use some work, as he posted a .907 SV% and a marginal 2.63 GAA in about 1,551 minutes played. Meh.
The Monster was big when he was called upon, specifically during Jimmy's injuries and his bout with the flu during the playoffs, posting a .917 SV% and a 2.71 GAA in his playoff debut against a mighty Bruins squad. He made a total of 66 saves over the span of two games, but lost two games in three appearances. However, the same claim can be asserted for Gustavsson that was asserted for Howard: consistency, consistency, consistency.
Petr Mrazek is waiting in the wings (no pun intended, really. Fine, sue me Kyle,) but is Jimmy Howard ready to have his potential successor knocking on his door? Probably not, and the Wings might elect to go with another season of Monstrous goaltending as a result. Though Mrazek posted a 2-4 record with a 1.74 GAA and a .927 SV%, Ken Holland and co. will probably elect to have him play one more year in the minors.
Can Jonas Gustavsson be the backup that Detroit needs him to be in 2014-15, or do they go with someone who is less injury-prone? It's a flat market, but in the meantime, the Monster isn't a horrible option like he was in years past.