Jimmy Howard is in a tough position this season as he and the team are struggling to keep the puck out of the net. He is in a contract year and needs a good performance to receive a larger contract whether it is with the Red Wings or another NHL team.
Howard will probably resign with the Red Wings, but at what price?
The Detroit netminder seems to have lost some confidence lately as he is playing farther in the net (a sign of a goaltender losing his confidence), and partly of a shoddy defense in front of him. The Red Wings have had a poor habit of turning over pucks in their defensive zone this season along with poor coverage in front of their net. Red Wing fans claim this is due to the recent injuries, but this is faulty reasoning. This problem has carried over from the previous season and has been evident since the beginning of the current season. There are a couple of reasons for the defensive lapses.
First, the defense (except for Brad Stewart and sometimes Niklas Kronwall) play a finesse game. This may be in part due the fear of being penalized for aggressive play , but it seems like opposing players set up residence in the Detroit crease without fear of retribution.
The team’s two best defensemen, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, are excellent at making that first pass out of their defensive zone, but if teams cycle within the Red Wings zone then they are in trouble. All teams cycle to tire out the oppositions defense, but Lidstrom and Rafaski lack the physical game to move the puck out of their zone. This is partly due to their increasing age.
Part of this problem also can be pinned on the forwards not clearing the zone as they should be helping out. This problem comes back to the goaltender, which in this case is Howard. He is certainly not the best puck handler between the pipes and this adds to the problem of moving the puck out of the defensive zone. Howard shows he has had the tendency of allowing more than his share of goals between the five-hole. He also seems to allow goals on the short side of the net (to the shooter) on what could be considered routine shots which have some times been five hole goals or not covering the inside post.
All goaltenders usually surrender these type of goals, but it seems to be regular habit for Howard. This situation may partly be the reason general manager Ken Holland tried to sign Evgeni Nabokov before he was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders. This attempted signing was for three possible reasons: To have a backup for Howard in case Chris Osgood doesn’t come back from hernia surgery, to challenge Howard to see if the Red Wings want to sign him, and to try to sign Nabokov next season.
This is not a pick on Howard column, but an attempt to analyze what moves the Red Wings will try to make in the offseason. With the possibility of Osgood retiring after this season, the Red Wings may have to look at adding two goaltenders for the 2011-12 campaign.