For the first time in 15 years, the script is vastly different for the storied Detroit Red Wings. Instead of gradually gearing up for a Stanley Cup run, the Wings know the playoffs aren't a certainty this time around. Beset by injuries, their depth has been taxed to the limit. In the past, injuries afforded the regulars some rest while the front office and the fans got a glimpse of prospects toiling in the AHL.
It is against this unusual but not unforeseen backdrop that the Red Wings are now operating. In their nightly scramble for precious points, they are finding out what they have and what they need. GM
What Detroit didn't know was how much it could expect from goaltender
Back in the beginning of October, the Wings' brass really didn't know how the goaltending scenario would play out. Veteran
Well, the sharing has been mostly Osgood sharing wisdom as mentor to Howard the grateful go-to guy. Osgood has always been team-oriented, so his support isn't surprising. But a cantankerous veteran attitude could have really soured this process. Instead, Osgood has allowed Howard to flourish freely to the point where he is now performing better at the NHL level than he did in the AHL. His 2.18 goals-against average ranks sixth in the NHL and his .928 save percentage is third-best. Pretty heady stuff given the questions coming out of training camp -- questions that only intensified when Howard lost his first two starts in October.
Since then, though, Howard has lost back-to-back in regulation just one other time. Excepting Detroit's lifeless 6-0 loss to the Islanders on January 12, when he was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals on 20 shots, his consistency has been the most impressive and surprising aspect of his season. It's the one attribute that has him playing the majority of Detroit's games, as Osgood has started 18 compared to 30 by Howard, including the last 12 in a row, through Sunday. As Babcock stated, "We need points. We need wins to make the playoffs. He is giving us the best chance to be successful."
In seasons past, Howard's rise to prominence as a first-year starter would have been a nice sidebar. This year, it's a big story, and it's come at the perfect time for a team that needs his steadiness just to avoid an unusually early offseason.