So do we keep going with Gus?
I think you keep rotating unless Jimmy loses multiple starts in a row. You've got to keep Jimmy going because he's going to be the guy come playoff time and it's getting to the point where he's got to start getting his game and head together. He's got to get some consecutive starts in towards the end of the regular season as well. I have this sneaking suspicion/hope that he'll be a different goalie come playoff time, so I've tried not to give it too much thought, but it's going to be interesting to see what happens.
Thinking further ahead, if Howard ends up imploding in the playoffs and Gus has to take over, it'll be very interesting to see how Howard's future in Detroit plays out. It's fairly obvious that Howard's struggles this year have been far more irritating to Babcock than before. Maybe it's because he just signed a long-term contract to become the teams 3rd highest paid player behind Dats and Z and he's following it up with his worst season by a considerable margin; all while getting outplayed by a guy making less than 1/3 of the money Howard does. Maybe he's just growing tired of the inconsistency. Either way, there seems to be a change in tone that would suggest that Babcock does not have Howard's back like he has the last few years. He knows Howard has to be the guy in the playoffs for this team to be successful, but he doesn't think Howard's always the go-to guy for a win this year, and that's where problems start. Babcock gets pretty hard-headed with goalies, and I think coaching them is one of his few weak points.
I know Howard's got the physical skill to be a very good NHL goalie despite some shortcomings here and there, but the real lingering question for me since he was in Grand Rapids was his mental game and more specifically his mental toughness. Too often it sounds like he's trying convince himself of what he's saying when he talks about his game, but his face too often tells an even scarier story. He's always had a way of wearing his frustration and a sort of confused and fearful look on his face when he faces adversity. In his rookie year, he'd play outstanding throughout the regular season for 5-6 games, and then have a royal stinker, and you could see in his face that he was clinging to what little composure he had for dear life at times. And let's not forget, he took a long time to get his game together in Grand Rapids, which made me wonder how he'd fair being rushed into the starting job once he stayed in the NHL. I think he was running on the high of playing great and didn't have the same kind of pressure of coming into the season as the starter, but when he got the playoff nod, his play dropped considerably. Ever since, it's been a relatively smooth ride with some bumpy spots here and there, a rough playoffs and a good playoffs, and another great regular season last year. But last year was the contract year and the Lidstrom transition year. This year, they proved they can still compete without Lidstrom and he's the 3rd highest paid player on the team, and thus far, he's been lousy and he looks like a mess. With Babcock not going easy on him and not giving him nearly as many starts as he's used to, you have to wonder if it's just making things worse.
As said, he has the skill to be a great goalie, but I'm not 100% convinced that he has the mental toughness to be a great goalie, especially for someone like Mike Babcock who tends to quickly revert to the cold "what have you done for me lately" coach when dealing with goalies. If he has a strong playoff run, it'll be huge for him and his career, as it'll no doubt come from dealing with a great deal of mental adversity yielding growth. If he stumbles, I would not be shocked to see him traded sometime in the next year. I really like the guy and hope he turns it on, but as much as I believe he can, part of me also recognizes that he might not have the mental toughness to do it, at least when coupled with having to deal with a coach like Babcock's methods.
Note: I'm not saying Babcock is a bad coach. I think he's a great coach, but nobody's perfect, and I think one of his weaknesses is in dealing with goalies.