There is little question that the Detroit Red Wings have upgraded their goaltending situation in the offseason. Signing former Toronto Maple Leafs netminder Jonas Gustavsson gives the team a better backup to Jimmy Howard then in year’s past, and will be even more important in a shortened season.
Last season saw Howard win 35 games despite battling injuries. Joey MacDonald won eight games for the team and helped keep a league-record home winning streak alive. Ty Conklin also saw some action in net, managing just five wins. Those two will not be a part of the equation this season, with Conklin a free agent and MacDonald on a contract but without a roster spot.
Howard is playing for a contract extension this season, and needs to stay healthy for the Wings to have a chance to make the postseason. His 2.12 GAA may take a hit this season due to the departures of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart on defense, and will really show if he is able to make the big saves to keep the team in close games. The addition of Gustavsson gives the Wings an option in relief of Howard, and will be especially valuable given the compacted schedule. If Gustavsson plays well, it will also push Howard, who has had little competition for the starter’s job since landing in Detroit full time. The “Monster” had 17 wins for the Leafs last season with four shutouts, while facing a similar number of shots as what he will be staring at for the Wings this season.
A solid number two goaltender can make all the difference in today’s NHL, Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak’s tandem performance last season for the St. Louis Blues is a great example of that. If the Wings can get both goaltenders to perform at the top of their game, they could once again find themselves atop the Western Conference standings.