2. Howard still providing quality starts
Not so fast for those who were prepared to anoint the Columbus Blue Jackets this year's dark horse contender a la last year's Phoenix Coyotes. The Blue Jackets have been impressive, no doubt, but the Detroit Red Wings served notice that the old dogs can still hunt by sweeping a home-and-home affair from Columbus over the weekend.
It was an interesting clash given some of the parallels between the two teams.
Two years ago, Columbus netminder Steve Mason jumped from junior hockey to NHL stardom, winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and adding a Vezina Trophy nomination to his youthful resume. Last season, Mason imploded and the Blue Jackets faded back into obscurity.
Last season, Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard emerged from a four-year apprenticeship in the AHL and shocked many by leading the injury-plagued Red Wings from deep in the standings into the playoffs for the 19th straight season. Howard was nominated for the Calder Trophy and received our top vote, although he was bested by Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers (by the way, how's that sophomore season going, Tyler?).
Unlike Mason, though, Howard has continued to provide both consistency and quality between the Detroit pipes in his sophomore campaign.
Although peers Carey Price, Michal Neuvirth, Tim Thomas and Sergei Bobrovsky have received most of the goaltending attention through the first quarter of the season, Howard has quietly compiled a sparkling 13-2-2 record and the Wings are considered by most to be the best team in the Western Conference at the quarter pole (and among the top two or three teams in the league).
"He's earned the right to feel confident about himself," head coach Mike Babcock said recently.
Now, there is a fine line between confident and cocky, something Mason learned the hard way last season.
Howard, perhaps because he is older at 26, is quick to deflect praise for his play and just as quick to accept responsibility when he doesn't play well.
Babcock said that when he meets with the media after a game, "if he [Howard] hasn't played well he's already told the press he wasn't very good."
"He's accountable," the coach said.
For his part, Howard said it's easy not to become complacent in a dressing room with guys like Nicklas Lidstrom, having a Hart Trophy kind of season at age 40, and hard-working stars like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
But here's the dilemma for the Wings: With Chris Osgood trying to rehab a lingering groin issue and not having played well when he was healthy, there are issues about the team's goaltending depth.
"He can't play every night," Babcock said of Howard.
With the Wings hard against the salary cap, it's going to present a dilemma for GM Ken Holland moving forward. That's to say nothing of the fact that Howard can become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. Stay tuned.
Edited by Konnan511, 30 November 2010 - 12:19 AM.