EDMONTON - Goaltending for the Detroit Red Wings can often be a thankless job.
On a team loaded with talent, usually the only time a Red Wings goaltender gets noticed is when he’s not playing well.
Jimmy Howard is starting to change that.
Heading into Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers with an impressive 1.91 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and a league-high 19 wins, the Red Wings goaltender is starting to garner some attention of his own and getting the credit he deserves.
“I don’t really worry about that, you look at all the great goalies that have played in this league, they’ve always had great players in front of them and here it’s not any different,” said Howard. “Here you have one of the best defenceman to ever play the game (Nicklas Lidstrom), probably some of the best two-way forwards in Pavel (Datsyuk) and (Henrik) Zetterberg. They are our leaders and we look to them every single night.”
Howard, 27, has worked his way through the Red Wings system to become the club’s undisputed starter.
Selected by the Red Wings in the second round — 64th overall — in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the native of Syracuse, N.Y., spent four seasons in the minors before earning a full-time job in the NHL.
He began the 2009-2010 campaign as the backup to Chris Osgood, but finished the year as the Red Wings starter, earning rookie of the year nominations in the process.
His sophomore campaign was a strong one as well, matching his 37 wins from the previous season.
This year, Howard has taken it to another level.
“He’s been taking huge strides every season,” said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom. “This season he looks very comfortable in net.
“Usually he’ll make that first stop for us and it’s up to us to be there and help him out with rebounds. But you can tell he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Howard is one of the reasons for the Red Wings’ strong play of late.
Having hit a rough patch in early November where they lost six straight, the Red Wings have found their stride, heading into Monday’s contest having won 11 of their previous 14 games.
“Ever since we had that little lull in October and the beginning of November, we seem to be finding the net a little more often,” Howard said. “I think it comes back to playing smart, guys are playing with a lot of confidence and guys are having a lot of fun.”
Howard himself is enjoying the game and the challenges associated with being a goaltender in Detroit.
It’s not an easy place to be with expectations so high year and year out. Often goaltenders are the scapegoats if the Red Wings don’t win the Stanley Cup.
Chris Osgood and Manny Legace can attest to that.
“It’s good, it should be that way,” Howard said. “It should be Stanley Cup or nobody’s happy. The expectations are high and it’s fun to try and attain those goals.”
The Red Wings are confident heading forward with Howard as their goaltender.
While his play may be a surprise to others around the league, the Red Wings were fully aware of what the former University of Maine product was capable of.
“He’s been a huge part of our team and our success this year,” said Red Wings winger Drew Miller. “What a lot of people don’t know is that he’s one of the first guys on the ice and one of the last guys off it.
“You see how hard he works, he wants to get better every day. That dedication and the time he’s putting into the game is paying off.”