There is little debate that Wednesday night’s loss to the Ottawa Senators was the worst outing of the season so far for Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. After allowing three goals on eight shots, Howard was pulled and now sees his season record fall to 3-3-1. This would be cause for panic on some teams, but there are a handful of reasons why the Red Wings shouldn’t panic about Howard’s rough start. In most games, Howard has received minimal offensive support. Backup Jonas Gustavsson is 3-0 to start the season and finally gives the Red Wings an option to let Howard have some nights off. In addition, it is important to remember that Howard got off to a similar slow start last season before playing lights out down the stretch and turning more than a few heads in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Red Wings currently rank 23rd in the league in goals per game, only getting an average of 2.3 per game. Even with the additions of Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, scoring hasn’t come easy this season. In their five losses (four in regulation, one in shootout), the Red Wings have scored two goals or fewer. Howard’s stats will rebound once he gets offensive support, especially some help on the power play.
Gustavsson started off the season 3-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average, good enough to be last week’s top star in the league. He didn’t fare much better than Howard against the Senators on Wednesday, but received even less offensive support. The “Monster” looks to have finally put an injury-filled past behind him, which is great news for a Detroit team that had to use Howard in 42 of 48 games last season.
The loss to the Senators was one of the worst losses for Howard since a season-opening drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Blues in January. He started last season with a 3-2-1 mark, and was tagged with seven more losses in February. None of that mattered when he rattled off four consecutive wins (while allowing only three total goals) to help put his team in the playoffs, or when he propelled the Red Wings past the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs or when he helped force the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks to a seventh game in the second round.
It is far too early in the season to start questioning Howard’s ability, and for as good as Gustavsson has been there should be no question who the starter is in the Motor City. Howard has a great chance to bounce back on Saturday against a struggling New York Rangers team, and that would be a great boost for a Red Wings team that departs for a four-game trip to the west next week.