It should come as no surprise that Detroit’s starting goaltender is under some serious scrutiny. After signing a contract extension last season that saw a pretty substantial increase in pay, fans and management alike knew his play would be watched even more in the aftermath.
And Jimmy Howard has had an off-year through these first forty-odd games. Injury has not helped his cause either, and most people are breathing a sigh of relief that Jonas Gustavsson came to form for a long enough stretch to cover for Howard before succumbing to his own injury-prone-ness (if that’s even a thing).
With such an off-year, it came as a slight shock to some that Howard was named to the US Olympic Team after the Winter Classic on Wednesday. I wasn’t one of them. Sitting and watching the announcement surrounded by family and neighbors with my one neighbor booing and saying, “You don’t deserve it, Jimmy!” to the television set, I wasn’t sure if my lack of shock was warranted or whether I should agree with my friend or not.
The loss in the Winter Classic is disappointing, yes. But can you blame the entire loss on Howard when it was one of his most solid performances this season? If you blame him, then you find that last sentence as last-resort desperation.
There’s a reason the organization signed Howard to a contract extension, and it has nothing to do with what’s on the free agency market and everything to do with his abilities.
People are always quick to forget the positives and focus on the negatives. Remember the end of last season when the Red Wings were fighting for a playoff spot? Howard gave up three goals in four games (two games were shutouts) to make sure the team made it. When it comes down to it, Howard has the ability to bounce back.
And he needs to bounce back.
But fans needn’t worry, because Howard has always managed to recover. Maybe he didn’t quite deserve the Olympic nod, but his playoff experience and consistency when it comes down to the wire is what kept him in the running (if you haven’t read the behind-the-scenes article about the roster, you need to). It’s not as if Howard will be the starter for the USA anyway.
(Besides, if you really want to argue about the US Olympic team roster, just mention Bobby Ryan and everyone will be off to the races.)
The Olympics may even help Howard focus when the NHL returns after the Olympic break. Will we have to wait until mid-February to see a drastic change in Howard’s play? No. Because the goaltender is frustrated with himself. Frustration is a double-edged sword, however, and can hinder a goaltender’s play or help them battle through their issues.
With Howard, fans can see that knife toppling over either way.
When it comes to goaltending, it’s always a tossup. Fans either love their starting goaltender or hate them. Heck, I’ve been arguing for five years with the same regular customer at Caribou Coffee about Howard’s abilities. It’s a battle. It always will be. And when it comes down to it, as long as the goalie knows when they need to play, that’s all that matters.
And Howard knows when he needs to be at the top of his game.