Jimmy Howard

Sometimes writings take on a life of their own and go in a direction in which the writer hadn’t planned on going. It seems Richard Bachman has grabbed this blog and ran with it, at least for the time being.
For the second time in three nights, The Pen Name will lead the Dallas Stars out of their home tunnel and onto the ice in front of a national TV audience. Mind-boggling, if you ask me.
I’ve been very supportive of Bachman in his string of starts over the last two weeks, but that isn’t exactly to say I’ve gone out on a limb. The Pen Name is 4-1 as a starter since relieving Andrew Raycroft mid-game at San Jose on December 8. Tonight will be just his second home appearance after playing in five consecutive road games.

The opponent is the Philadelphia Flyers, who under normal circumstances would be heavy favorites to beat Dallas anywhere. But after the maiming over the weekend on home ice at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, the Flyers skated decently to a disappointing result in Colorado two nights ago.
Philadelphia outshot the Avalanche 33-27, scored 1 power play goal in its 4 opportunities, and killed off the only two instances it had of being shorthanded. But Avs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere was just good enough to steal the shootout win, and extend the Flyers’ “losing streak” to 1.5 games (I mean, we can’t really call it a 2-gamer, now can we?). These struggles probably make HBO very happy, since the Rangers are cruising ahead of the Winter Classic, and nobody wants to see two teams in cruise control.
Phoenix will bring its road warrior hockey club into Carolina tonight for a game against Cam Ward and the last-place Hurricanes. The Coyotes rock a 10-6-1 record away from the apathetic confines of the Arena, while playing even in front of the raucous crowd (7-7-2 home record). Apologies to Coyote fans for my exaggeration; you do create a pretty good scene during playoff games, and according to your Wikipedia page, ticket sales have increased and season ticket renewals are at an all-time high.
The Hurricanes have played some dreadful hockey this season, and look poised for a high draft pick. The results haven’t come yet under Kirk Muller, but the latest in a line of NHL ’94 stars-turned-head coaches (or in Randy Cunneyworth’s case, NHL ’94 bit players-turned-head coaches) hasn’t had nearly enough time. It was nice to see the Canes were able to unload Tomas Kaberle to Montreal recently, but the fact that he was on the roster only highlighted what I believe to be an uncertainty over the direction of the club. Carolina has multiple rookies and/or prospects that many still believe to be future impact players in the NHL. What they don’t have is a calming influence on the blue line, and with the only man on the team capable of delivering that, Joni Pitkanen, out indefinitely with a concussion, things look very bleak for the Canes this season.
Speaking of bleak outlooks, Montreal heads into Chicago tonight with very few believers left on the bandwagon. Professional writers are using terms like “gongshow” and “lack of direction” rather frequently these days to describe the Habs, and it’s hard to argue with any of them. The latest uproar surrounds new hire Cunneyworth’s lack of a grasp of the French language, but I’ve never been to Quebec so I’ll save any comment on that.
The Habs will concede the game try to spark the team by starting Peter Budaj at the Hawks, who just possibly might be tired from last night’s loss in Pittsburgh. One would have to expect a Chicago victory. Corey Crawford is expected in nets for Chicago, but nothing is yet confirmed at the time I write this, and Ray Emery has started the last six games to the tune of a 5-1 record. If it is Crawford tonight, it is an absolutely huge game for him. Most people expect Crawford to be the Hawks’ goalie going forward, but the season is almost halfway gone, and at this moment it’s hard to justify Crawford over Emery. A game against Montreal at home is the kind of game that any division title contender should wish for right now.
What should be noted is that this is exactly why the Blackhawks were so smart in giving Emery a tryout, and subsequently a contract and the backup job. I urged the Red Wings to make this same move, but instead Razor Ray is winning for the rival team. Things may turn and nothing is certain, but right now, credit must be paid to Emery for persevering through his terrible hip injury and to Chicago for realizing how important he could be to a roster capable of winning another Stanley Cup, but backstopped by a second-year starter.
St. Louis will start Brian Elliott at Colorado, who will counter with Giguere. Some people will go on about the Shattenkirk trade (my ode to MvsW), but I think enough time has passed that we can evaluate a game between the Blues and the Avs in a way that includes players besides Shattenkirk, Stewart and Johnson. Since I never pick the Avs, give me the Blues. David Backes will be the anti-Paul Stastny tonight in a micro-matchup between young American centers on different sides of the slope right now.
Tampa Bay plays at San Jose tonight, and I’m not going to waste anybody’s time going into detail on a game that, quite frankly, I’m not going to watch. I expect the Sharks should get this one done at home, but the NHL, like all professional sports leagues with built-in parity, is unpredictable. Not many people may remember this or care, but this game is a matchup between last season’s conference final losers. Give the winner a bronze medal, I say.
In what’s probably the game of the night, my Detroit Red Wings travel to Vancouver for the first time this year. Detroit beat Vancouver at Joe Louis Arena 2-0 on October 13 in a game that was unexpectedly dominated by the Wings, but that was when the Canucks were still in the beginning stages of their hangover. It seems the headache is gone now, and the home/road records would suggest a Vancouver win tonight. The Canucks are 9-4-1 at home this season, while the Red Wings are a simple 8-8-0 on the road. Detroit is usually a pretty good road team, but has instead opted for an eyebrow-raising 13-2-1 start on home ice en route to another good record through 32 games (21-10-1). Jimmy Howard is confirmed as the starter for Detroit, while Roberto Luongo is expected for Vancouver. That game starts at 10 p.m. eastern time.

Sundays are almost always lean in terms of NHL scheduling. In my younger 20s, we would refer to Sunday as “the day of reflection,” which usually tied in with getting our minds and bodies right after a few nights of good ways to make bad decisions. I think given my advanced age and rededication to the upkeep of this blog, Sundays are a good day to reflect upon the week that was with specific regard to Tram’s Table posts that previewed something that could use a little reviewing as well.

Boston Bruins d. Philadelphia Flyers 6-0

On Friday I previewed the Saturday afternoon duel for first place in the eastern conference between Boston and Philly. The title of the post was “Concussions Hinder Flyers Ahead of Saturday’s Tilt with Bruins for East’s Top Spot.” While I may have upset some Boston fans by glossing over the B’s issues, specifically the concussion suffered by Daniel Paille, the angle probably was spot on. Granted, it would have taken more than just Giroux and/or Pronger to reverse a 6-0 drubbing on home ice, but the Flyers had the look of a team that was more limited than a typical “9-1 in their last 10” team should be.

The Bruins looked like a team capable of winning a(nother) Stanley Cup. To do so, they may have to face the Flyers for a third straight year, and after last spring’s second-round sweep, it’s hard to find anything from yesterday that would suggest a reversal of the outcome of this potential series. It’s even harder when you consider that Chris Pronger is, at least as it stands right now, not going to take part in any more hockey this season.

Bachman d. Poulin 3-2 as predicted… then gets torched at NJ

On Thursday I keyed in on the Dallas at New York Islanders matchup because it involved the two goaltenders with the least amount of combined NHL experience. Dallas trotted out its AHL usual, Richard Bachman, formerly of Colorado College. The Isles sent out their preferred AHL tender as well: Kevin Poulin.

There is no need to retroactively preview the game, since that was another post, but the “something in the realm of a 3-2 Dallas win” turned out to be something of an exact final score.

Since that game, New York went back to this season’s best starting option in Al Montoya (of the University of Michigan… gotta plug NCAA hockey & especially the soon-to-be-defunct CCHA). Dallas, meanwhile, chose to roll Bachman again on Friday night in New Jersey on Scott Niedermayer jersey retirement night. It didn’t go well for The Pen Name. The Devils beat the Stars 6-3 with no empty netters.

Dallas plays next on Monday night on Versus at 8:00 eastern time, where they will host the horrendously struggling Anaheim Ducks. We will see if Bachman gets his fifth straight start or if Dallas benches The Pen Name in favor of regular backup Andrew Raycroft (he of the 3.53 GAA).

Red Wings blast Kings 8-2

On Tuesday I put my two cents in on the firing of Kings’ head coach Terry Murray, and the possible changes in playing style that may necessarily follow. It was recently announced, to nobody’s surprise, that Murray will be replaced by a Sutter brother for the second time. Eleven years ago, it was Duane Sutter who took over for Murray in Florida. Now it will be Darryl Sutter to try to lead the Kings back to the playoffs.

One possible side effect of Murray’s axing that I noted was a rise in the goals against department for the Kings. This would not necessarily hurt the team, as they could allow 0.5 more goals per game, but score 1.0 more and end up doing better in the overall standings. But the opening up of play would have a negative effect on goaltender Jonathan Quick, and to a lesser degree his backup, Jonathan Bernier. The drawbacks would probably be more fantasy-related than actual hockey-related, since the goal of any netminder is ultimately to just win games. But both gentlemen are up for a contract renewal after next season, and statistics can have a way of affecting a free agent’s next deal.

In the end, I don’t think there should be too much to worry about for L.A.’s goalies, because I don’t believe many people consider Sutter’s style to be all that different from Murray’s. Sutter presided over Miikka Kiprusoff, who in 2004 was not all that unlike Quick as far as career plot. That Calgary Flames team came within one goal line review of winning the Stanley Cup. And who knows, maybe the best forward from that ’04 Flames team will be a King before long… I should note that I doubt this will happen, but the Flames probably should be preparing themselves to trade captain Jarome Iginla before he retires and they get nothing in a potential deal.

After noting that L.A. was 6th in goals against per game in the NHL at the time of Murray’s firing, we looked at the five teams playing “better defense,” and noted that of the five, only Detroit had seemingly no shot at toting a Vezina-winning goalie. I’m sure my opinion is at least a little bit skewed by the fact that I root for the Red Wings, but I constantly hear people saying that Jimmy Howard is not that great, but that he plays for a team that doesn’t require great goaltending.

We broke the shots against per game statistic down and hopefully made a dent in some of that misguided armor.

Last night was a perfect Rug Game (it really tied the room together), as the Kings went into Joe Louis Arena and promptly got blown out of the building. Quick allowed 3 goals on 7 shots and was yanked less than 9 minutes into the contest. Bernier provided little relief, as he was only able to stop 15 of the 20 shots he faced en route to an 8-2 mauling. Howard saved 27 of 29, but as usual, that was of little note. Sutter will reportedly take over head coaching duties for the Kings on Tuesday, per Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times.

After the news broke Monday that Terry Murray had been fired as the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings (just a couple weeks after locational rivals Anaheim Ducks fired their head coach, Randy Carlyle), my immediate question was whether this would result in the Kings adopting a more offensive style.
Murray’s Kings have been killing it on the defensive end for a few years now, although I don’t think that fact ever got as much pub as the perceived offensive potential of star youngsters Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. The truth of the Kings’ style is that they were largely based around a fundamentally sound system of positional responsibility, and only a few players tended to deviate from this JV Devils game plan (Jack Johnson comes to mind).

Kopitar has the physical gifts to be a 100-point scorer consistently, but under Murray’s system it seemed more and more like the big Slovenian had stabilized as a point-a-game player in this his sixth NHL season. And all that is fine… if you’re winning.
Photo via
As Anze Kopitar watches the Kings’ coaching situation intently, you could consider his fantasy upside under a more offensive system.

Kings’ management has apparently decided that 29 games is enough of a sample to determine that the team is not winning. Perhaps that firing across town expedited the process. It has been suggested that because of the town that the Kings play in, there is an onus on playing a more wide-open style that will yield higher scoring games. I think that while that may be true, it is a very soccer attitude to have — this idea that the home team somehow is required to take more risk than it wants to in order to appease the fans. In my experience, there is one thing that a team can do to sustain fandom: win games.
Of the Five Teams Playing Better Defense than LA, Only Detroit’s D Seems to go Unnoticed.

I looked it up and saw that LA was sitting in 6th in the NHL in goals allowed per game, and decided to examine the general feeling surrounding those five teams playing better D than the Kings.
In St. Louis’ case, Brian Elliott is on the tongues of every professional pundit I’ve heard giving an early measuring point on the Vezina Trophy. His tandem-mate Jaroslav Halak has picked his game up nicely since just before the firing of former head coach and 2006 Kelly Cup champion Davis Payne.
The other goalie up for mention with Elliott on everybody’s list is the incumbent, Boston’s Tim Thomas. He and Tuukka Rask have the defending champs allowing just 2.07 goals per game, second only to the 2.03 figure sported by the Blues.
Coming in third is the Minnesota Wild (2.10 GA/G), who have been known as a great defensive team throughout their existence, with the exception of the last year and a half before the hiring of rookie head coach Mike Yeo. The Wild have the luxury of what now looks like a trio of capable big leaguers in regular starter Niklas Backstrom, finally healthy Josh Harding and 21 year-old Matt Hackett.
Fourth place belongs to the perenially Vezina-worthy Henrik Lundqvist and his outstanding backup Martin Biron. The Rangers are built from the back out, and boast what many could argue is the best pure starter and the best sole backup in the league. Biron is that rare goalie who can post around a 2.00 GAA and at the same time not have anyone in the league believe he is worthy of consideration as even a time share. Amazing, but definitely to the Rangers’ benefit. Their GA/G number is 2.11.

Regardless of allegiances, Marty Biron’s mask is pretty awesome.
And then there’s the goaltender that may be the closest to the Jennings Trophy without ever having a shot at the Vezina: Jimmy Howard. Constantly dogged by the myth that Detroit’s team defense is so good that he only has to make 20 saves a game (the Red Wings actually give up 27.5 shots per game, which while 2nd in the NHL, is still only 5 shots away from dead last in the league), Howard will never get the respect he deserves as a mentally stable goalie with the ability to steal games. He will struggle to shake the comparisons to his predecessor, Chris Osgood, who played at the height of the Wings’ puck possession era.
Detroit is unlikely to get the Jennings for Howard and his backup Ty Conklin, but the fact that the Wings are 5th in total defense should raise some eyebrows after last season’s complete disregard for basket protection. En route to a surprising return to the top of the Central division in 2010-11, the Red Wings let it rain — into their own net. Their 2.89 GA/G stat was 23rd in the NHL. None of the 7 teams they beat out were even close to a playoff spot.
Photo via
Jimmy Howard doesn’t need your love. Or a mask.

So while it is funny and aggravating that so-called hockey people refuse to give Howard any credit for this season’s 2.21 team goals against average (Howard’s personal GAA is 1.85 with a league-leading 17 wins that he had nothing to do with), it only highlights people’s slowness to react. Detroit is not a juggernaut anymore, and in fact the entire league’s range of shots allowed per game ranges from 26.2 to 32.6. And yet, Howard will not be invited to the NHL awards as a Vezina candidate this year or ever, because the late-‘90s and mid-2000s Red Wings dominated the time of possession stat a little too much.
Getting back to the Kings, I wouldn’t be surprised if their goal scoring and goal allowing go up in tandem. Only time will tell if that’s a better recipe for success in the standings, and more importantly, in the playoffs.

It is being reported by Rogers SportsNet, and subsequently everyone else, that defenseman Brian Rafalski will announce his retirement from the Detroit Red Wings at a press conference on Wednesday.  Rafalski has one year left on his contract, and is scheduled to earn $6 million to play next year.

Perhaps tomorrow we will know if Rafalski’s knee injuries have anything to do with walking away from $6 million and a division winning team near his hometown, or if Rafalski felt the team was sliding.  Rafalski is a native of Dearborn, Michigan, and is 37 years old.

In my opinion, this cannot be good news for the Red Wings as far as next season goes.  The thought was that the Wings had a very good team that showed improvement from last season, and that showed a renewed love of the pursuit during that three-game run against the Sharks.  If Nick Lidstrom was to decide to return for one final go at it, I think the Red Wings would have been on the shortlist to win the Cup next year.

But with Rafalski’s retirement, short-term expectations must be adjusted.  One would have to think that Rafalski’s retirement could only nudge Lidstrom in the direction of doing the same, if it has any impact at all.  If Detroit loses both Lidstrom and Rafalski, it will suddenly have over $12 million to replace them, but no free agents to use to fill those spots.

Here is a link to a list of defensemen that are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 of this summer, courtesy

The only players on that list that intrigue me at all are Eric Brewer and James Wisniewski, but I doubt either will leave the team they currently play for.  I have not researched the cap situations in either Tampa Bay or Montreal, but suffice it to say both players made a positive impact after being acquired in midseason.  And it should go without saying that if the Detroit Red Wings spend so much as $500,000 on guys like Andrei Markov or Tomas Kaberle, I’ll have to reevaluate my unadulterated admiration for general manager Ken Holland.  But I doubt there’s any chance the Wings would do something that stupid, especially since those guys can’t be had for less than $3 or $4 million a year (you know, because that correlates to the wins they bring their teams…).

As far as a youth movement goes, Detroit will probably now bring back Jonathan Ericsson and possibly Ruslan Salei, while trying to get Jakob Kindl to become an everyday player, and also seeing what they have in the franchise’s top prospect, Brendan Smith.  If Smith is NHL-ready, that would alleviate some of the defensive pain that Detroit will endure in 2011-12.  It’s more likely that the youngster still needs time, which at this point the Red Wings might be alright with accepting.  Again, expectations must be adjusted.  Both Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall are entering the final year of their contracts, assuming neither ups and retires.

The situation up front, however, is in far less flux.  Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen are signed for as long as they will be effective, and Pavel Datsyuk is under contract until 2013-14 — meaning he has three more seasons at least.  Additionally, only Hudler, Bertuzzi and Holmstrom are due to become UFA’s after next season, so Detroit’s forward situation appears to be pretty solid for the next few years.  Obviously, the Red Wings should not go into full rebuilding mode, because 1) there is no need to do so, 2) they have some money to spend and a solid core of players coming back, and 3) a full rebuild would involve trading Datsyuk and/or Zetterberg, which should be nothing other than a last resort.

What the Wings need now is to retool on the back end, with an eye toward being in position to win the Stanley Cup in either 2012-13, 2013-14, or both.  The reason I think these years will yield the real opportunity is because by then Smith, Kindl and Ericsson might be good enough to get through four playoff series and just support goalie Jimmy Howard and the star forwards enough to prevail.  I don’t feel that any of those three players will be good enough next year for the Wings to win the Cup.  One quick fix would of course be to splash $12 million on two defensemen this summer, but I feel that would be the wrong move because looking at the list of available players, almost nobody is worth a Rafalski, and certainly not a Lidstrom.  If no available replacements are as good as the guys we’re losing, then why should we pay the exact same money to these downgrades?  We shouldn’t, and that’s why I’d rather play a season considerably under the cap or sign a bunch of one-year contracts than go back to the well with aging defensemen who either don’t play defense or can’t skate.  To blow this money on long-term (more than 1 year) deals on defensemen who cannot help us win the Stanley Cup would show a terrible lack of foresight and would tie up the funds that could otherwise go toward a much richer defensive free agent class in the summer of 2012 — one that includes Ryan Suter, Willie Mitchell, Milan Jurcina and other D men who actually play defense and help hockey teams win games.  One or more of these players could be added to a squad that may have some solid youths, if Smith, Kindl and/or Ericsson can pan out.  On top of that, the money would be there to resign Kronwall and/or Stuart, since it wouldn’t be tied up with Bryan McCabe or some other overpriced signing this summer that carries a very poor wins-to-dollars ratio.

In short, Brian Rafalski’s retirement is a game changer for the Red Wings, and as a fan I sincerely hope that they swallow their pride and plan for the near future, and not the immediate future.  The big three up front will still be in the prime of their careers three seasons from now, albeit the end of their primes, and that’s why Detroit needs to think this one through and give itself the best chance of winning the 2013 or 2014 Stanley Cup, because after that, everything truly changes.