The roundtable is back, and ready to take the same question in all sorts of different directions. Today, we talk about a certain well-off goaltender and how he’s performed down the stretch. Specifically, is Jimmy Howard’s recent streak a sign that he’s coming back to life, or is it just a blip?
Here’s what we thought:
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Jimmy Howard’s season, to say the least, has been quite… streaky. Averaging out currently to a .910 save percentage, he’s seen streaks of four wins in a row, combined with a 11-loss streak from December to February. Though he lost some games in overtime and shootout that he could’ve won, he also had a stretch where he gave up four goals or more in just five games.
In the past five games, he’s put up save percentage numbers of .967, .964, .951, .905, and .871, while giving up more than two goals only once. Interestingly, Howard’s averaged exactly a .910 save-percentage over each of the past three seasons, so it’s safe to say that age 31, that’s about what he is right now. Currently, he’s quite a ways off from the elite goaltender he appeared to be for a few seasons at his peak. While goalies occasionally pull out great seasons in their thirties, while Howard’s not been picking up the decisions this year, his numbers are not far off from his three-year trend. I wouldn’t say so much that he’s on his way back around to being anything but really what he’s shown to be statistically over the past three years: a slightly below-average goaltender, removed from his best days.
Jimmy Howard at his best is and always has been a Top 10 goalie in the NHL. This recent string of games is more proof of that.
However, Jimmy’s biggest struggle has always been consistency. His 14-15 season for example, he gets named to the NHL All Star game then suffers that injury, comes back and promptly loses his job to Petr Mrazek. At his best he is absolutely unreal but the problem is when he’s off, he’s OFF.
It’s always been tough to tell whether his inconsistency is due to his health or mental strength but one way or another it’s his weakness. Right now he’s healthy and setting the world on fire at the absolutely perfect time. Petr is sick/hurt and the Wings are hanging on to a playoff spot by tiny bits of string.
Let’s not forget that Jimmy basically dragged to the Wings into the 2013 playoffs kicking and screaming in a situation eerily similar to the current one. Fair or not, you still have to approach this off season assuming he’ll be the inconsistent, talented starter. Let’s hope if this is his last hurrah with the Wings, it replicates his final stretch of the 2013 regular season.
Goaltenders are hard to predict, and so are streaks. In Howard’s case, he’s had a couple of dominant stretches; his first six games of the season in October and November, a four-game Run in December, and this stretch over the past calendar month.
Brad brings up the idea of Howard’s lack of consistency, and it’s not an unfair statement. Howard tends to be able to run through stretches of multiple games with shocking proficiency, but if he’s out of the net for too long, those rare appearances are duds. You can’t just solve that by throwing him in over Petr Mrazek, either; keeping a pretty good goalie “in the groove” at the expense of your starter is crazy talk.
Jimmy is being afforded an opportunity to run with a few games late in the season due to the bumps and bruises that Mrazek has taken, the intensely tight schedule the Wings carry, and Petr’s flu that kept him out of last night’s game. Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise; this run might let Mrazek recharge his batteries while getting Howard in good shape. If nothing else, it brings him back to that league-average level of play that the Wings have been able to count on for years.
It’s not so much that this run is bringing Howard back to what he is; he just is what he is. If not used often enough, you run the risk that he either costs you the game, or keeps you in it.