– Two reasons the Red Wings are near the top of the Western Conference standings with a plus-36 goal differential has been the stellar contributions from goalie Jimmy Howard
and center Pavel Datsyuk
And apparently those responsible for picking the players for this month’s All-Star Game think so too, as they selected Datsyuk and Howard to represent the Wings in Ottawa later this month.
For Datsyuk, the mid-winter classic will be his third invite. But Howard, who has a league-leading 24 victories this season, this will be his first All-Star appearance.
Again, Datsyuk has been one of the league’s premiere defensive forwards, leading the NHL in takeaways (59). He’s also fourth in assists (30), and he’s rated No. 8 in face-off wins at a 56.1 percent clip.
News of their selection wasn’t known as the Wings prepared to head home after Thursday’s morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. But that didn’t dampen Howard’s enthusiasm for what he was hoping to hear.
“Definitely it would very welcomed, an honor,” Howard said.
In 35 games, Howard has been an absolute workhorse for the Wings, allowing 71 goals and making some incredibly timely saves that have kept his team in games this season. Only Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick has logged as many games while allowing fewer goals (67).
“He's played real well and become an important part of our team,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Goaltending is very important, but obviously Howie has become an upper echelon player on our team, he's been very consistent.
“Good players aren't once in awhile they're every night. And that's what we expect from him. We've grown accustomed to that's what we're going to get.”
Captain Nicklas Lidstrom
, who was kept off the All-Star roster, said he’s pleased in knowing that Howard has gained the recognition that he deserves.
“I think the guys in here believe he should be there, especially with the kind of season he's had,” Lidstrom said. “He's up there in most wins, he's playing great for us and has been getting better and better every year for us and you can tell his confidence is high as well.”
Howard said that he used to watch the All-Star games and root for his boyhood idol, former New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter. Now Howard gets to follow in his idol’s skates.
“When you're a little guy, it's a lot of fun to watch, you get to see all the names in hockey,” Howard said. “I definitely enjoyed it when I was growing up, watching the skills competition and all that.”
In the past, goalies have been target practice for flashy superstar forwards. But Howard had a different take on the festivities.
“They're all for fun,” he said. “You go out there, get to meet guys from other teams, catch up with old friends that you know. Just basically have a good time and take it all in.”
As for Lidstrom not making the 12th All-Star appearance in his illustrious career, he seemed OK with the league’s decision either way.
Last year, Lidstrom was one of the team captains, who got to pick his All-Star team in a fantasy draft format before the game in Carolina. He was the only Wings’ representative at that game.
“It's always an honor to be selected and one of the guys going to the All-Star Game,” he said. “It would be nice to get the weekend off, kind of re-energize and get back at it after the break.”
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