When to rest him and when to play him?
That’s the million-dollar question because Jimmy Howard cannot play every night.
Managing his number one netminder’s minutes might be Mike Babcock’s most important job as head coach of the Red Wings this year. And, it is going to be no easy task.
Between a grueling 82 game NHL schedule and potential Olympic action nights off are going to be a critical component of Jimmy Howard’s season.
The Wings have lofty goals they hope to achieve this year and to attain their goals they can’t have Howard heading into the playoffs feeling drained and overworked.
Last year Howard was forced into being an absolute workhorse because the Wings had a slew of must win games down the stretch. Jimmy started 42 of Detroit’s 48 games in the 2012-2013 season.
But, that was in a shortened season. Things are different this year.
For starters, I think Howard has a realistic opportunity to start for Team USA at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Jonathan Quick is the frontrunner, but I have no doubts that Jimmy Howard is in the conversation.
These extra games would be huge for Howie’s development as a goaltender, but they will come at a cost for the Red Wings; ultimately, he might not have enough in the tank for a long playoff run.
With that being said, the onus falls on Detroit’s coaching staff to methodically plan the right number of starts for Howard this year. To get a better understanding of what that number should be let’s take a look at how many games he has played in his past 4 seasons with the team:
If Howard sees action in the Olympics his number of regular season starts becomes critical. I think in a perfect world Detroit would be happy if their second stringer could play 25 games.
This would put Howard right around the 60 game mark (give or take) depending on how many games he might play for Team USA.
Now, there are a couple of key problems with this scenario I have laid out:
- If the Wings’ don’t have a reliable backup there is no way in hell they will be able to trust him starting 25 games.
- If Detroit is fighting for their playoff lives (like they were last year) the Wings will have no choice but to ride Howard every night.
Point being the Wings need to think ahead and start resting Howard sooner rather than later. With a rested Jimmy Howard heading into the playoffs the Wings will set themselves up for postseason success.
As selfish as it may sound, being a Wings fan, I hope Howard doesn’t start for Team USA because that will make things more complicated for Detroit.
To tell you the truth I would rather see Jimmy have success in red and white rather than red, white, and blue anyways… especially since I’m Canadian.
Anyway you slice it the Wings will need more from their backup goaltender this year or this will all become a non-issue.
To that end, Gustavsson’s performance yesterday was a big step in the right direction.