April 17, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (35) in the third period against the Nashville Predators of game four of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals at Joe Louis Arena. Nashville won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson: Dynamic Duo?

When Ken Holland signed Toronto Maple Leafs’  goaltender Jonas Gustavsson at the start of free agency, the responses in the Detroit Red Wings’ fanbase were mixed. Most were simply happy to be rid of Ty Conklin; others were wary of Gustavsson’s continuing health difficulties.

On July 1, Gustavsson signed with the Red Wings on a two-year, $3 million contract. Before signing with the Red Wings, he played three seasons in Toronto, playing 42 games in the first and third seasons and only 23 in the second. His GAA during that time was 3.02 and his save percentage was .898.

His numbers with the Maple Leafs are not exactly stellar. But with Färjestads BK in Sweden, he averaged a 2.18 GAA and .925 save percentage. In the five games he played with the Toronto Marlies in the 2010-2011 season, he had a 1.14 GAA and .950 save percentage. Those numbers look a lot better.

Gustavsson is a competitive player who knows he can do so much more with talent that has yet to come out in full. He’s a backup goaltender that will push Howard to be a better player as well.

Jimmy Howard will be under much scrutiny as well (which is not that surprising since all Red Wings goaltenders are under a microscope). With the departure of Nicklas Lidstrom as well as Brad Stuart, the hockey world will be interested in seeing how good Howard really is, or if it was just Lidstrom being his usual, miraculous self.

March 24, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (50) makes a save against the New York Rangers during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Since becoming the Red Wings starting goaltender in 2009, Howard has averaged a 2.39 GAA and a .917 save percentage. He has been relied on heavily to play back-to-back games. In two of the past three seasons, he has started 63 games in net. He was runner up for the Calder Trophy in 2010 and named to the NHL All Star game in 2012.

This is a player who has proved much already. That, however, will not silence critics around the league.

The Red Wings have been a Cup Contender nearly every year since the mid-1990s, and the question has always been whether the goaltender is that good or if it’s just the team in front of him. Without Lidstrom on the roster as well as having somewhat of a transitioning team for this shortened season, Howard has the chance to prove that perhaps it is the goalie and not just the team in front of him.

Howard and Gustavsson seem as though they will mesh well together. With how competitive Gustavsson seems to be, he should give Howard the push he’s needed to be a consistently great goalie.

Will they be a dynamic duo like Chris Osgood and Mike Vernon or even Osgood and Dominik Hasek? Perhaps not to that Hall of Fame standing, but it certainly isn’t that unbelievable to think they will find a flow. One thing is fairly certain: The Red Wings’ worries for this season do not concern their goalies.

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Tags: Detroit Red Wings Jimmy Howard Jonas Gustavsson NHL

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