Under Pressure: Jimmy Howard

6 Comments

“Jimmy Howard two years ago was a star for us. Last year wasn’t as good as we expect Jimmy to be.

“When you’re an athlete and you’re proud, you want to play the way you’re capable of. Sometimes when it doesn’t go your way — for whatever reason — you want to fight your way back. We need Howie to do that.”

That was Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock in July, speaking to Detroit 105.1 Sports Radio about his franchise netminder. As the quote suggests, Howard struggled in ’13-14 — the first of his six-year, $31.75 million extension — and now, the pressure’s on for the 30-year-old to discover the form that saw him net a hefty average annual salary ($5.29M, right in between Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury in the goalie salary landscape.)

So, what went wrong for Howard last year?

Health, or lack thereof, was a problem. Howard missed 13 games with hand, knee and hip injuries and made just 51 appearances — a decent workload, but down from his 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns, in which he logged 63 games in consecutive years. Howard’s season also ended on a sour note health-wise; he was knocked out of Detroit’s opening-round loss to Boston with the flu, shooting down speculation he was sidelined with a concussion.

When healthy, Howard’s play didn’t exactly inspire. His .910 save percentage and 2.66 GAA ranked him 36th and 33rd among all NHL goalies, and there were stretches throughout the season where Babcock opted to use backup Jonas Gustavsson with greater frequency, including a stint in early December during which the coach called Howard’s confidence into question.

“You have to find a way to get hit and you have to find a way to get confident,” Babcock said, per the Macomb Daily. “You always find out way more about yourself during tough times, but that’s the same with everybody in any walk of life. When things are going great we’re all great people. It’s when it’s not going good it’s how we choose our attitude, how we choose our worth ethic, that makes you a good pro.

“Every good goalie in the National Hockey League has been through some ups and downs.”

The hope now, of course, is that Howard is done with the lows. He’s not that far removed from a banner ’13 campaign — during which he led the NHL in shutouts and finished sixth in Vezina voting — and Detroit hopes he can find the confidence he once had and get back into “star” form.

To hear Howard explain it, he’s ready to put last season in the rear view.

“It was just one of those years,” he said, per the Detroit News. “Statistic-wise, it wasn’t very good. I think I can be a lot better. I’ve proved in the past I’ve been a lot better. And that’s the way I want to be moving forward.”

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

5 Comments

The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

2 Comments

Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
1 Comment

It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

16 Comments

Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.