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Howard's been a symbol of excellence

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard makes a glove save on a third-period shot by Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 2.

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Even though Jimmy Howard’s name doesn’t appear on this year’s NHL All-Star ballot, he certainly has played like an all-star for the Red Wings.

Through the first two months of the season, the Wings’ goalie had more wins and lower goals-against average than the last 12 netminders to play in one of the last four All-Star game, including Boston’s Tim Thomas, who’s been to all four of the mid-season exhibitions.

Howard has been the Wings’ star player in the first quarter of the season, and even when the team went on a bit of tailspin in early November, Howard remained spectacular.

“I don’t know that you can point to a goalie – night in and night out – better, who has played virtually every minute of the season,” Wings backup goalie Ty Conklin said. “Even in the games that we were losing 2-1, 3-2, he was fantastic. When we lost four in a row, he was fantastic. I really can’t look at a game where he’s had a soft game at all. He’s been pretty rock-solid all year.”

Through the first week of December, Howard is leading the league with 15 wins and a 1.83 GAA. He’s also tied for second with three shutouts and ranked No. 8 with a .931 save percentage.

Whether it was his pretty glove save on Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Gilroy, a kick save on Nashville forward Matt Halischuk, or foiling a breakaway attempt by Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek, the Wings have benefited greatly from Howard’s play in the first quarter of the schedule.

“He’s given us a chance to win every night,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “Against Anaheim he was really good and made some great saves to keep us in the game in the second period and also in the third. We’re really confident with him back there and it allows us to play a little bit in a different way because we are so confident with him.”

NHL Network selected Howard’s glove stop on Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan as the second-best save of November. And can’t forget the penalty shot stop on Kings’ staar Anze Kopitar’s signature backhand move.

But still, no love for Jimmy.

None of the names on this year’s ballot, especially those Western Conference goalies, are ahead of Howard in the three major statistical categories. And only Kings’ Jonathan Quick (.936) and Edmonton’s Nikolai Khabibulin (.932) have higher save percentages.
Howard has also done a splendid job at pulling double-duty this season, adding “New Dad” to his busy schedule when his wife, Rachel, gave birth to the couple’s first child – James Russell Howard IV – on Oct. 23. Yet there was a time in the off-season, Howard said, when he questioned whether he would be good enough. Not a good enough goalie, a good father.

“Over the summertime, I was just hoping that I could do a good job (as a dad),” Howard said. “Then I remember just sitting in the hospital and everything came naturally, from changing the diapers, but now I have it down flat.”

Fatherhood has taught the 27-year-old goalie from Syracuse, N.Y., something very valuable, which he’s managed to transfer to his game on the ice.

“I’m a lot more patient now then I was made out to be,” Howard said. “I was a little bit more impatient, I guess you can say. Just my approach to life, I’m a lot more patient then I ever was.
“I find it a lot more calming coming to the arena now. It’s almost like an escape from everything that is going on at home. It’s a chance to come here and do what I love. My confidence has grown so much since my first two years. I feel like I can be a difference-maker now.”

And WRIF’s afternoon DJ Meltdown hopes to make a difference too, spearheading a grassroots effort to get Howard to Ottawa for the All-Star Game on Jan. 29.

“Has he played well for us? Yes. Do we like him? Absolutely,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Who’s the best goalie in the Western Conference? Who has the best numbers? Howard? Then maybe he should be on the ballot.

“I think as a player you worry about the things that you can control, and how you’re playing. You do good things on the ice and good things happen to you as far as notoriety goes. And yet to me, it would be a real honor for him. He was in the running for rookie of the year a couple of years ago, if I’m not mistaken. He’s been a very important player for us and he continues to get better.”

Captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who supports the write-in campaign, feels that as the Wings’ best player this season, fans should have the opportunity to have their hockey voices heard.

“I think he deserves to be on the ballot,” Lidstrom said. “He’s been our most consistent player so far this season. He kept us in games where we haven’t scored for him and he’s won games for us.

“I think he’s just more consistent and I think it’s harder to score on him now. Even though there have been times when you think they’re going to score on a rebound or something, he’s been there to save those kind of shots with a leg kick or he gets that glove up there. He’s just raised his level of play overall.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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