ZADOROZNY: So You Think Jimmy Howard is Bad?

by  2 Comments February 11, 2014

(@Zads07)

The Detroit Red Wings have been one of the most dominant teams in the NHL since the  mid-1990s. You could say it was a dynasty that spanned two decades, something that’s extremely difficult for teams to do in sports these days.

However, it appears that the dynasty era is over. Over the last season and a half, the Red Wings have been at the backend of the playoff pack, finishing 7th in the Western Conference in 2013, and currently 8th in the Eastern Conference this season.

Despite this, many fans believe expectations shouldn’t have to be lowered; especially with the Red Wings competing night in and night out. They’re a team that still has the drive to compete for a Stanley Cup, year after year.Even though expectations “Shouldn’t have to be lowered,” in reality, they must. No one should expect this Red Wings team to compete at the unbelievably high levels their predecessor’s did. It’s an unrealistic expectation, and that goes for most players on this current Red Wings roster.

 

Of course there’s a few players that you expect to do well each year; Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Kronwall and Ericsson are just a few names that come to most fans mind.

The most scrutinized player on this team though, is Jimmy Howard. The goaltender position has been one of the most loved and hated positions in Detroit, right there with the Detroit Lions quarterback and Tigers manager (in recent years).

The question Wings fans need to ask themselves: “why is there so much scrutiny surrounding Howard?”

Yes, it’s true Jimmy Howard has been having a bad year. So far in 2013-2014, he’s missed 13 games due to a knee injury. Additionally, he’s had a bruised hand and a hip flexor as well this season.

Heading into the Olympic break, he’s amassed a 12-13-9 record. This is definitely not the kind of performance you see from an Olympic-caliber goaltender. Despite this, he’s still going to the Sochiwith Team USA.

In hockey circles, many feel he doesn’t deserve it, and to some extent, it’s hard to argue with them. Logically, you want to send a player that’s been playing well, such as Craig Anderson or Ben Bishop, but in front of Howard is Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick. If you’re going as a third goaltender, would you rather have experience with the Red Wings netminder, or a hot goaltender, who probably won’t play a single game in Sochi?

Howard is statistically having the worst season of his career since he took over as the starting goaltender in the 2009-2010 season. It’s true he’s not playing his best hockey, and there are fans who want him gone.

But why? Because in five years as a Red Wing he’s been unable to win a Stanley Cup? If that’s your only reason, then Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo, Ben Bishop and Craig Anderson are all pretty bad too.

 courtesy of www.hockey-reference.com
courtesy of http://www.hockey-reference.com

When evaluating the five seasons as the Detroit Red Wings starting goaltender, several statistics jump out about Jimmy Howard. For starters, he’s faced just as many shots this season as he did in 2013, all while playing in eight fewer games. Not to mention, last season was the first year without Nicklas Lidstrom,. So what does that tell us?

In half a season, Howard racked up only 21 wins in 42 games, but he’s faced 1,129 shots, 300 fewer than the year before in which he played 57 games. That’s about a difference of 15 games. In 2012-2013, he was facing an average of just over 26 shots per game. If he plays those 15 games, he faces another 400 shots, just slightly over what he faced the year before.

If there had been a full season, Howard would’ve racked up approximately 40 wins, 24 losses, and 12 overtime losses. Yes, he would’ve played in roughly 76 games, which seems unrealistic since he’s never played more than 63 games in a season, however, that’s the pace he was on, and that was without Lidstrom.

So far this season, Howard has faced 122 fewer shots while playing in eight fewer games than last season. On average, he’s faced nearly 30 shots per game. When he plays in another eight games, he’ll surpass last year’s total by 118 shots. It’s not much, but that’s just 8 games, and he’s on pace to play between 50-60 games this year. Estimating his shot totals for the reason of the season, he’s going to face at least another 540-840 shots the rest of the year. Howard will probably finish the year facing almost 2000 shots. Only six teams have allowed more than 2,000 shots since 2011-2012.

The best statistic to look at for a goaltender is the shots against and the saves he makes. Howard has yet to have less than a .900% (save percentage). He’s also never been above a 3.00 GAA (goals against average), both of which are significant in knowing if a goaltender is NHL caliber or not.

In reality, if you look at Howard’s stats, he’s not the awful goaltender that some people think he is. He’s definitely not getting the help in his own zone, or at the other end of the ice to win. You can make all the saves in the world, but if your team isn’t scoring, you won’t win many games.

On average, the defense in front of Howard has gotten younger with each passing season. In his first season, the average age was 32, followed by 33 in 2010-11, 30 in 2011-12, and 26 last year. This year, the average age of the defensemen that have played for the Red Wings is 25, with the youngest being 20 years old.

The lack of experience is a big factor in why the Red Wings aren’t as good as they’ve been, and to solely blame Howard for the team’s struggles is the easiest way to place the blame.

So far this year, the Red Wings have ranked 20th in the league in scoring, with 2.5 goals per game. Last year the Red Wings ranked 19th (2.5 goals per game). In 2011-2012, the Red Wings were 7th in scoring (2.91 goals per game).

When you scrutinize Howard and his play, you scrutinize the entire team. Howard may not be playing his best hockey, but statistically, Howard is one of the better goaltenders in the league, despite the lack of experience in front of him.

Many of Jimmy Howard’s critics will continue to scrutinize him, and that’s fine. Just don’t jump on the bandwagon when he brings a Stanley Cup to Detroit.

To read the original piece that appeared online on Sports Radio Detroit on February 11, 2014, go to www.sportsradiodetroit.com

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