I’ve generally been supportive of Jimmy Howard, probably because he’s an American (George Washington, James Brown and John Cena) but mostly because I have sympathy for him.
He only played three seasons as a starter behind a Nicklas Lidstrom-led Detroit Red Wings team, including an awesome rookie season in 2009-10 that saw him finish second for the Calder. Which is to say Howard’s now played in as many post-Lidstrom “transition” seasons as with the Perfect Human on those great Red Wings teams.
So I sorta feel for him, because instead of back-stopping the kinds of teams that hilariously have Chris Osgood in the Hall of Fame conversation, Jimmy Howard backstops teams with lineup holes and veteran stars who are in and out of the lineup with frequency of a McRib.
But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to defend, with confidence, Howard as a Stanley Cup caliber goalie this season. His .911 even strength save percentage is brutal … although better than his .910 EV save percentage last season.
He’d probably be out of a job now if 23-year-old Petr Mrazek wasn’t that yippy puppy that keeps slipping his leash.
The Red Wings play slightly better with Mrazek in net, as his GAA in 5v5 is 1.94 to Howard’s 2.06. They score slightly more goals for Howard (2.09 to 2.06) but have a higher PDO (101.1) with Mrazek than Howard (99.3).
He’s had 15 games in which he’s given up two goals or fewer. He’s had six games in which he’s given up four or more goals, and has been pulled four times in 25 games. His EV save percentage? Just .912 in 25 games.
Growing pains to be sure, but not the kind of thing you can allow to happen in a seven-game series.
"I don't think about it," he said. "I know Howie is still likely No. 1, I'm sure. He's proven himself so often for so many years. And I think this year, he was great.
"It's just how it is with goalies. Sometimes, when nothing hits you and everything's going in, you just have to follow-up and come back. That's how it is.
"I don't think we should be talking about who is No. 1 goalie. I think that's, for sure, Howie. And it's nice to see how he handles the pressure," Mrazek said. "I know that's going to help me, a lot."
The pressure’s an interesting point of debate for Howard. Winging It In Motown had a post about that two weeks ago, detailing some shot numbers against Howard, and surmised:
Having tracked Jimmy for the last couple of years I am starting to get the impression that he is susceptible to pressure. For some reason, compared to other top goalies, Jimmy often lets in a goal that a top ten goalie would stop and this is why he rarely gets a shutout. For some other reason, he is a goalie who has trouble sustaining performance.
They’re a full percentage point better (54.4 to 53.4) in corsi-for when the score is close and Mrazek is net. Also interesting: The Wings have a significantly stronger corsi-for (62.5) when trailing at even strength than when Howard’s in net (59.5).
As with all of this, we’re talking about a smaller sample size. But if you’re looking for “plays better in front of this goalie” harbingers, this might be one.
The Red Wings traditionally haven’t needed a goalie that steals games left and right to succeed. They need competence, as Mike Babcock recent insinuated when asked about the goalie problems.
"The blame game never helped anybody, ever," he said. "We're better off if we just keep on grinding and not worrying about that. We know we've got good structure, we know we've got a good team. Let's stay the course and look after things."
To that end, they probably roll with Howard, who can’t win you a game but probably won’t lose you one, than Mrazek, who can shut out the Lightning in Game 1 and then leave a welcome mat for their pucks in Game 2.
But it’s not our call. It’s Babcock’s, and that’s why they pay him the big bucks. Before they, you know, pay him all the bucks this summer.
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