Under Pressure: Jimmy Howard

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“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.”

Ekman-Larsson suffers lower-body injury vs. Sharks, will be re-evaluated today

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The Arizona Coyotes lost to the San Jose Sharks in preseason action Saturday. What will matter more is the status of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

According to reports, Ekman-Larsson suffered a lower-body injury during overtime and had to be helped off the ice.

“He will get re-evaluated tomorrow — lower body,” said head coach Rick Tocchet, per Arizona Sports. “See what happens tomorrow. I don’t think he will practice tomorrow.”

At 26 years of age, Ekman-Larsson is a huge piece of a rebuilding Coyotes team and, based on previous comments from general manager John Chayka, is expected to be heavily relied upon on the blue line this season.

It’s also expected that he will be named the new Coyotes captain, taking over the leadership role from Shane Doan.

Rangers’ Desjardins faces hearing for ‘dirty’ hit on Miles Wood

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Just hours after delivering a two-game preseason suspension to Tom Wilson, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued a statement on Twitter, this time saying Andrew Desjardins will have a hearing.

That hearing is scheduled to take place Monday. Desjardins received a match penalty for an illegal hit to the head of New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood during Saturday’s preseason game between the Devils and Rangers.

The incident occurred before the midway point of the first period.

Wood was slow to get back to his feet, but did eventually return to the game. The hit resulted in a melee in front of the Rangers net, with John Moore also getting called for roughing.

Devils hold open tryouts for emergency goalies

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Steven Porzio’s father was a New York Rangers fan, but he always rooted for the New Jersey Devils. A goaltender himself, Porzio was struck by Martin Brodeur, and he dreamed of replacing the NHL’s career wins leader when his days at the Prudential Center were done.

Porzio is now 27 years old and working in information technology, and he’s given up hope of replacing Brodeur.

He still might suit up for the Devils on their home rink, though.

Porzio and 14 others tried out Saturday to become the Devils’ emergency goaltender for this season. They were run through drills by former New Jersey goalie Scott Clemmensen at the Prudential Center, faced shots from players in the minor league system and even used a dressing room next door to the Devils’ home locker room.

Read more: Kings hope to find emergency goalie candidates with open tryouts

“You walk through the locker room area and see all the team photos, the little replica Stanley Cups,” Porzio said. “That gives you chills a little bit.”

This wasn’t exactly fantasy camp, though. Clemmensen pushed the prospective netminders – mostly former college or junior players – through rigorous tests to evaluate their skating and puckhandling.

“Put them through a legitimate goalie clinic today, which I don’t know if they were expecting,” said Sarah Baicker, the Devils’ director of content and communications, who helped coordinate the tryouts. “A couple guys looked like they’re going to sleep really well tonight.”

The tryouts are in response to a new league rule for this season, which mandates that teams have an emergency goalie present for all home games ready to fill in for either team. Last year, a number of clubs required backups on short notice, including when the Chicago Blackhawks called on Philadelphia-area youth hockey coach Eric Semborski for a game against the Flyers because Corey Crawford needed an emergency appendectomy.

New Jersey plans to pick a winner by the end of the week, and that goalie will need to be at all 41 Devils home games this season, plus the playoffs. New Jersey might pick more than one player to split up the schedule, though it hasn’t decided yet if the emergency goalies will be paid.

The 15 netminders at the rink Saturday were selected from a pool of nearly 400 applicants, some of whom were targeted by the team.

“The skill level was pretty good, and that’s what we’re looking for today,” said Clemmensen, now the goaltending development coach for the organization.

Among the final group was 43-year-old Anthony Felice, a hockey coach at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York, who has been an emergency backup for the Devils’ minor league teams in Lowell and Trenton. Injuries have slowed the former junior player, but he’s healthy enough now to seek “a chance to do it one more time.”

“To come out here and be in the big building was a lot of fun,” he said.

Not all the participants were Devils fans, either. Matt Palella, a 23-year-old who played at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, just moved to the area from Chicago for a job in Manhattan a few weeks ago. He got word of the tryout and put in his name, not sure what he’d get from the experience.

“I was expecting, `Go in the corner, figure it out,”‘ he said. Instead, he was surprised by how well New Jersey treated him and the others. “It was top-notch.”

Palella blew out his knee late in his college career, and this was just his second time skating since the injury.

“I’m not hurt,” he said. “That’s all I care about. Walking away in one piece.”

 

Jankowski ‘continues to impress’ at Flames camp

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Mark Jankowski made his Calgary Flames debut last season. It appears he’s making quite a case to at least start the new campaign in the National Hockey League.

On Friday, he notched his third goal of the preseason, helping the Flames to a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes. Make that three goals in three exhibition games for Jankowski, Calgary’s first-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft.

Once considered an “off-the-board” pick in that opening round, the 6-foot-4 center has developed into a very intriguing prospect, particularly after an impressive 2016-17 season down in Stockton, scoring 27 goals and 56 points in 64 AHL games. He appeared in one NHL game last season, and is leaving an impression during this year’s training camp, too.

Read more: Looking to make the leap — Mark Jankowski

“The confidence thing, right? These young players grow more confident as it goes,” head coach Glen Gulutzan said of the 23-year-old Jankowski following last night’s game.

“I thought he played well tonight. I thought he was better tonight than he was against Vancouver (on Wednesday) and he just continues to impress everybody.”

Calgary has three more preseason games remaining on their schedule, which could provide more of an opportunity for Jankowski to prove himself to the Flames coaching staff ahead of the regular season.

“I’m just trying to get better every day and keep on showing the coaching staff and management what I can bring to this team,” Jankowski told reporters.

“As camp goes on and it gets thinner and thinner, I just have to keep on doing that and get in some preseason games against almost full NHL lineups. That’s when you can really show your stuff, show you can play at this level and have an impact.”