Just before the puck dropped in game 4, it was announced that Jonas Gustavsson would be the starting goaltender. Fans immediately started scratching their heads, wondering why on earth the Detroit Red Wings would put their back up goalie in against the Boston Bruins. A back up goaltender that has zero playoff experience at that. Was Babcock trying to catch the Bruins off guard with a goalie they didn’t prepare to play against? Did management decide to turn on Howard despite his Venzia-Trophy-Like stats in this years playoffs? (.931 Save %, 2.02 GAA). (I didn’t believe it at first either) Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Jimmy Howard was not playing because he suddenly came down with the flu.
I did my best Doug MacLean impression and declared “I’m Sore-ey, I’m not buying it!”. Although I would have really nailed it if I referred to Detroit as “Dee-troy-it”.
I have a hard time believing that Jimmy Howard actually has the flu. He already had the flu once this season and it kept him out of a game against the Blue Jackets on March 11th, and he came back the next game against the Oilers a few days later. Now we’re to believe that Howard suddenly has the flu again a month later? Seems suspicious to me.
Professional athletes are some of the best fit humans in the entire species. Their bodies function like well-oiled machines and although they aren’t perfect, you’d expect them to have a functioning immune system. This isn’t a lingering cardiac issue that could have gone undetected for years like with Rich Peverly or Kris Letang had recently. It’s not a blood clot that could be suffered by essentially anyone who travels like Tomas Vokoun had. It’s a flu virus that’s supposed to be fought off by the immune system. Athletes do get sick sometimes (just ask Michael Jordan) but twice in a couple of months? Seems as though that’s a tad more frequent that you’d expect someone to get sick.
The smart and wonderful Michelle from Winging It In Motown pointed out that there wasn’t really a good alternative explanation and that it’s entirely possible that Howard took warm ups for game 4 despite having the flu, felt like he couldn’t do the game shortly thereafter, and the change was made. I was ready to put the whole thing to rest, until this started going around Twitter:
That’s a gif by Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) for those of you wondering. And for the gif imparied, it shows Franzen pushing Soderberg into Howard, who gets kneed in the head and proceeds to roll around on the ice with his hands on his head during game 3.
This sceenshot gives a real good look at the knee hitting Howard’s head, as well as Franzen doing the pushing (as thought he wasn’t hurting the Wings enough!) This could be a real good alternative to Howard having the flu, and teams and players alike are generally reluctant to admit concussions. That’s painting with a really wide brush though, and there isn’t too much motivation to call a concussion anything other than what it is. Players have played through much worse in the playoffs though.
What is important in the short-term is that Howard is out for game 5, and Jonas Gustavsson is in. I can ask these sorts of questions all day, but the nature of Howard’s incapacitation will only matter if Detroit survives this game. Seeing how many opportunities Boston had that weren’t stopped by Gustavsson but seemed more like Detroit getting lucky, I’ll spend the time counting down to puck drop taking stock of the Red Wings’ Koo Koo Roos.