Under Pressure: Jimmy Howard


“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.”

Oilers get Kronwall’d – in more ways than one

Niklas Kronwall
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When someone gets clobbered by Niklas Kronwall, they get Kronwall’d.

(His detractors may insist that the definition require the words “dirty” or “illegal,” but that’s a debate for another day.)

It’s easy to get lost in those thunderous hits and forget that the  Swedish defenseman also brings some skill to the table.

He made a big impact – literally and figuratively – in Detroit’s 4-3 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.

First, the Kronwalling:

Next, Kronwall’s overtime-winner:

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Red Wings are leaning on guys like Kronwall and Dylan Larkin to stick with it.

Tonight’s win extends their point streak to six games (4-0-2), with five of those contests going to overtime.

Dubinsky – Crosby’s nemesis – gets the last laugh on Friday

Sidney Crosby, Brandon Dubinsky

Brandon Dubinsky isn’t a household name like Sidney Crosby is, yet for all the hype that Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin gets, Dubinsky is the sort of guy who truly rankles No. 87.

It’s been getting that spotlight since the Columbus Blue Jackets faced off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a brisk playoff series, though it wouldn’t be surprising if the bad blood stemmed to Dubinsky’s days with New York.

To some, Dubinsky’s cross-check on Crosby will resonate far more than the end result of this game:

The bottom line is that he’ll get the last laugh, at least for now. (In-game, that moment merely drew a minor penalty.)

That’s because Dubinsky set up the overtime game-winner, and the cherry on the top of that spite sundae came with Crosby being on the ice when it happened:

They’re not just rubbing the Penguins the wrong way.

Even Dubinsky kind of sort of admits that he may have been in the wrong.


More and more, the Blue Jackets are looking like a nuisance … possibly one that will grind their way to an unlikely playoff berth. They improved to 8-4-0 in November after a disastrous 2-10-0 October.

In other words, there’s at least a chance that we may see these increasingly bitter rivals butt heads in another playoff series.

Eichel’s sweet snipe helps Sabres snap six-game skid

Jack Eichel
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The Buffalo Sabres probably deserved better during at least some chunks of their six-game skid, yet Jack Eichel swooped in on Friday to remind fans that there’s a light shining at the end of the tunnel.

You can watch his goal from tonight’s eventual 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in the video above.

That’s not necessarily the absolute height of his on-ice magic, yet it clearly gave his team a lift:

Call this a healthy reminder that Eichel has the ability to change games, something Buffalo fans hope to get used to.

Report: Likely no suspension for Matt Beleskey’s hit on Derek Stepan


Alain Vigneault went there in comparing Matt Beleskey‘s hit on Derek Stepan to the notorious check Aaron Rome delivered on Nathan Horton many moons ago, but the league seems to disagree.

While Rome sat through that memorable Stanley Cup Final between Boston and Vancouver, it sounds like Beleskey won’t face any further discipline, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

In the unlikely event that anything changes, PHT will make note.

The next game between the Rangers and Bruins takes place at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 11. Will these bad feelings linger?