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Howard creeps up on rookie record

by Michelle Crechiolo / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROITJimmy Howard’s numbers are creeping closer to the top of the Red Wings’ record books (and possibly the Calder Trophy) with each game.

Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues was 20 consecutive starts for Howard, giving him the second-longest streak by a Detroit goalie since Tim Cheveldae played 29 straight in 1991-92.

Howard’s three games from tying the franchise record for most consecutive starts by a rookie goalie, currently held by Roy Edwards, who reached 23 straight in the 1967-68 campaign.

All Howard needed to post these impressive numbers, however, was a chance to get into a groove between the pipes. He played the first half of the season as veteran Chris Osgood’s backup, and wasn’t able to maintain the right frame of mind.

“People don’t realize when you sit there for a while and then kind of play, it’s really difficult,” Howard said. “It’s a lot different than practice. There’s more traffic and pucks moving around a little bit more. So I mean, when you’re out there and you’re playing every single day, it’s a lot easier to get into a rhythm and just keep going and building off it.”

Howard is no stranger to rewriting the record books, holding the University of Maine single season and career records for shutouts, goals against average, and save percentage during his three years with the Black Bears. He also holds the NCAA single-season records for save percentage (.956) and goals against average (1.19).

Howard’s numbers, which are not just tops with the Red Wings but also in the NHL, are making him a bonafide candidate for the Calder Trophy award as the league’s top rookie. The last time the Wings had a Calder winner was 1964-65 with goalie Roger Crozier.

The 2009 winner, Columbus goalie Steve Mason, posted a 2.29 GAA with a .916 save percentage, and a 33-20-7 record.

Howard’s stats are eerily similar to Mason’s, with a 2.30 goals against average (tied for sixth), a .924 save percentage (tied for fourth), and a 30-15-9 record. Howard still has nine games remaining.

“I said to Ken Holland today, suddenly he’s in top three numbers in three categories in goaltending this year,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s fantastic for us. He looks like he’s a goalie, he battles, he seems to have a real good attitude when things don’t go well for him. It just seems like water off a duck’s back, and he’s getting better, so good for us.”

The only thing Howard is interested in doing is giving the Wings a chance to win.

“When you think about that stuff and you put pressure on yourself, that’s when holes start to open up and leaks start to break away,” he said. “So you just got to go out there just like every single night.”

THE TALK OF HOCKEYTOWN: The forward line of Valtteri Filppula, Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi has been dynamite at a crucial point in the season, combining for 20 points in three games.

The line’s production has been key to capturing points. Bertuzzi’s 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame has been making Tomas Holmstrom-like traffic in front of the net, giving Filppula and Zetterberg more room to work with the puck.

“(Bertuzzi) is great in front, it’s tough to move him,” Filppula said. “It gives more room outside too. So you always know you can just throw it in the front and Bert’s going to be there, so it’s a really huge thing for the line.”

What makes Babcock happy is the fact that the second forward line of Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Holmstrom didn’t have any points in Wednesday’s win; yet the team as a whole is still skated away with two points.

“That didn’t happen early,” Babcock said. “So you can spread it around a little bit more, and that makes you a better team.”

PENALTY KILL STILL SURGING: A turning point Wednesday was killing off a high-sticking double minor given to defenseman Brad Stuart at the 11:29 mark of the second. The Blues didn’t get many quality chances in their four-minute power play.

“It was really, really big for us,” Filppula said. “I think it always gives a lot of energy too when you come out of that, and I don’t think we gave them too many really good chances. And obviously Howie played really well in net, so that was a huge key in this game.”

Wednesday was the 10th consecutive game the Wings have not allowed a power play goal. They have killed 28 consecutive power plays, and 56 of their last 59.

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