DETROIT -- If you ask Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard what he is doing differently this season than in 2013-14, his response is "Nothing."
But, he adds, there is one difference.
"Just feel healthy, that's the biggest thing. I put in the work in the summertime," Howard said. "It [health] gives you the confidence to go out there and do your job."
Howard is 13-5-4 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .917 save percentage for Detroit, which has won seven of its past eight games. The Red Wings are 17-6-5 and on top of the Atlantic Division with 39 points heading into the Wednesday Night Rivalry game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA SPORTS).
Last season, Howard, 30, slumped with a 2.66 GAA after 2.12 and 2.13 the previous two seasons. He was hampered throughout 2013-14 with groin and shoulder injuries.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said Howard's play was particularly important in the first few games of the season, when the Red Wings were discovering their personality but managed a 3-1-1 record against a tough schedule.
"If you go back to his first five games his save percentage was through the roof (.949, stopping 131 of 138 shots)," Babcock said. "Those first five games we weren't confident and going yet and we needed him even more so I think that's really important. … I really thought when we were trying to find ourselves and gain confidence [Howard] was really good."
He has been consistently strong since.
"Now his job is just kind of be night in and night out," Babcock said. "I thought the other night he gave up two in the first [period] and shut the door (in a 3-2 come-from-behind win against the New York Rangers on Saturday). To me that was a real good effort for us. [Howard's] a guy that can really give us confidence; the better he plays, the more swagger the team has."
Red Wings forward Stephen Weiss agreed.
"When he had to be our best player, he has been our best player," Weiss said. "... He's a guy who rises to the occasion when we need him."
Howard is in his ninth NHL season, all with the Red Wings, who have employed Dominik Hasek, Glenn Hall, Mike Vernon and a few others whose names even casual fans would recognize.
Goalie - DET
GAA: 2.21 | SVP: .917
Two goalies in Red Wings history have more than Howard's 165 wins. They are legendary Hockey Hall of Fame member Terry Sawchuk
, and Chris Osgood
, who was Howard's teammate early in his career and who won the Stanley Cup three times in Detroit.
Howard downplays that distinction.
"To be honest with you I haven't really given it any thought. That's the farthest thing from my mind," he said. "I guess what it comes down to is I'm thankful I've been able to play so long here in one city."
He's more concerned with doing his part to keep the Red Wings winning.
"It's been good. There's been a couple games, obviously a couple goals, I'd like to have back, but that's going to happen to any goalie over the course of the season," he said. "As a team we're just doing a great job finding ways to win games, and I think that's a great sign of a young team maturing."