Nine different Kings had at least three shots on goal, and their stars – Ryan Smyth, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown – combined for 44 percent of the team’s shot total.
Playing more like a hall-of-famer than a rookie, the Red Wings goalie stopped all but one of 52 shots, en route to Detroit’s 2-1 victory at StaplesCenter.
“He was huge,” Wings defenseman Brad Stuart
said. “He may have stolen a couple of points for us. He played well, but we sat back a little too much, especially in the third.”
The Kings’ 52 shots is the most fired at a Wings goaltender since the Blackhawks bombarded Greg Stefan with 53 shots in a 4-4 tie at Chicago Stadium on Feb. 26, 1989.
Thursday’s shot total is the most Howard has ever faced in regulation at any level of competition. Though, as a college junior at Maine, he stopped 63 shots in a 2-1 triple overtime win over Massachusetts in the Hockey East championship.
“That had a little more drama,” Howard said.
As a backup to Chris Osgood at the beginning of the season, Howard has been miraculous in his first full-season with the Wings. Out of necessity, he was thrust into a starting role, and in November, the Syracuse, NY., native even won the Carharrt Hardest Working Player of the Month Award for posting a 6-2-0 record with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in the month.
Howard, 25, is also among the NHL leading goalies with a .927 save percentage (fifth) and 2.19 GAA (eighth) this season. There’s even been talk of him being among the rookies candidates for the Calder Trophy.
With the Wings fighting for playoff position, they desperately needed a win against the Kings, who began the evening with a four-point cushion on Detroit in the Western Conference standings.
“It’s been awhile since a goalie made that many saves for us,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom
said. “But in a game like this, we needed that.”
At a time Thursday, it looked like the Wings might make Dan Cleary’s first-period goal stand up as the eventual game-winner. Howard stopped all 10 first-period shots before the Kings out-shot the Wings, 27-6, in the second – setting an LA record for shots in a period. Again, Howard was spectacular, especially on a power-play when Michal Handzus fired a point-blank wrister from the slot. Then during a late-period scramble in the Wings’ crease, Howard stopped Kopitar, who had more than one whack at the puck.
“They were just firing it,” Howard said. “It was just one of those things. Guys just laid out in front and we laid it all out on the line.”
Until forward Darren Helm
scored the game-winner with 17-seconds, everything was quite intense for the Wings’ goalie. Even during a late TV timeout, Howard’s teammates left him alone, reminiscent of a starting pitcher in the mist of embroiled in a no-hitter.
“They know when Ozzie and I are in the zone and they leave us alone,” Howard said. “They don’t want to mess anything up, I guess. They just let us do our thing, which is nice.”