DETROIT – Out of sight, out of mind.
Jimmy Howard would be the first to admit that last season was that kind of season, a personal anomaly, which he forgot long ago.
His name never made it into conversations about the league’s best goalies and their major statistical categories. Not in wins. Not in goals-against average. Not in save percentage.
For a change, it was Howard who was shutout.
This season, however, has been quite a different story for the 30-year-old goalie, who is ranked No. 8 among league goaltenders in wins (13) and goals against (2.21).
“It’s been good,” said Howard, who will start Wednesday against Toronto at Joe Louis Arena. “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. 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.”
In 22 starts this season, Howard has surrendered more than three goals in a game just three times. He had 19 such outings last season.
The biggest difference, he said Tuesday, is his health.
“Just feel healthy, that’s the biggest things,” Howard said. “I put in the work in the summertime. It (health) gives you the confidence to go out there and do your job.”
Howard has been steady for the Wings. Case in point is last Saturday’s 3-2 home win after the New York Rangers jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period. Howard settled down, which allowed the Wings to mount a comeback.
“His job is just kind of be night in and night out,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought the other night he gave up two in the first and shut the door (the rest of the way). To me that was a real good effort for us. Howie’s a guy that can really give us confidence the better he plays the more swagger the team has. I really thought when we were trying to find ourselves and gain confidence Howie was really good.”
For a team who’s chances for success were put on life-support before the season opener, the Red Wings are one of the league’s hottest teams heading toward the Christmas break in two weeks. With 39 points, Detroit is in a three-way tie for the Eastern Conference lead with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
Every player in the Wings’ locker room believed this team has the talent and chemistry to be successful.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Howard said. “We battled through a lot of injuries last year throughout the year to a lot of key guys. We scratched and clawed and found a way into the playoffs. We felt coming into this year, with everyone getting healthy over the summer, the younger guys getting a year older, we felt we had a good team.”
|The Red Wings supported Beads of Courage by wearing red and white beads on their practice jerseys at Tuesday's practice. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings) |
RED WINGS BEADS: Each Red Wings player had beads pinned to their practice jerseys Tuesday at The Joe in support of Beads of Courage, an Arizona-based arts-in-medicine supportive care program for children coping with serious illnesses.
The Beads of Courage journey begins when each pediatric patient is first given a length of string and beads that spell out their first name. Then, colorful beads – each representing a different treatment milestone – are given to the child by their health care provider to add to their Beads of Courage collection.
The red and white beads worn by the Wings on Tuesday will given to young patients at Children's Hospital of Michigan who hit a special milestone like finishing a complete round of chemotherapy.
Along with the beads, the child will receive an autograph card saying that a particular Red Wings player wore these beads during practice.
SERIES FINALE: The Red Wings and Maple Leafs wind up their five-game season series this week with two meetings in four days, beginning with Wednesday’s game at The Joe.
“It’s always a great atmosphere, it’s always a lot of fun with the ‘Let’s Go Red Wings’ and the ‘Go Leafs Go’ chants,” Howard said. “It always makes for like a playoff atmosphere. It’ll be no different tomorrow.”
The Red Wings are 2-1-0 against their Atlantic Division foes, having won the first two meetings of the season on back-to-back nights in October. The Leafs won the last meeting in November.
Having faced the Leafs seven times since last season, the players are starting to feel a rivalry blossoming as they become more familiar with each other.
“I think so,” Howard said. “They’re a team that lives off transition, they want to get the puck onto their forwards’ sticks and make plays. It’s just important for us to keep going the way we have been, rolling four lines, keeping them off our D and having fun in the offensive zone.”
The Original Six rivals will drop the puck on the fifth and final head-to-head game Saturday at Air Canada Centre.
MacLEAN OUT IN OTTAWA: Former Red Wings assistant coach and 2013 Jack Adams Award winner Paul MacLean is out as coach of the Ottawa Senators.
Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray made the announcement on Tuesday that the club was heading in a different direction and that the 56–year-old MacLean was relieved on his coaching duties 27 games into the season.
Hired before the 2011-12 season, MacLean coached the Senators to a 114-90-35 regular-season record and playoff appearances in his first two seasons behind the bench.
“It’s always disappointing. As a coach it’s real simple, you decide with coach every single time,” Babcock said. “This is a little different for me because Bryan Murray is a real good friend of mine as well. Mac’s a good coach, he’ll bounce back. It’s always an initial shock for you and for your family and your ego, but that’s the business too. Mac is a real good coach and he’ll coach again if he wants to.”
ABBY UPDATE: Justin Abdelkader will not play Wednesday when the Red Wings host Toronto at Joe Louis Arena. He has already missed four straight games since suffering a slight shoulder separation against Vancouver on Nov. 30.
Abdelkader skated at Tuesday’s practice, but did not take part in any contact drills.
“It’s not quite there yet, but it was nice to be out there and skate,” said Abdelkader, who has seven goals and eight assists in 24 games this season. “Hopefully keep getting better. I think it’s made some good strides over the last few days.”
Abdelkader is reluctant to set a timetable for a return date until the shoulder can absorb contact.
“It’s just one of those things where you just can’t put an exact time line on things,” he said. “You’ve just got to see how it feels, see the trainers and I’ve got to get my strength back and full range of motion.”