Detroit Red Wings: Battle between the pipes

For as long as I can remember Hockeytown has always been skeptical about their goaltenders. We praise them when they excel (Chris Osgood, Dominac Hasek, and Manny Legace) or crucify them when they faulter or don’t meet our expectations (Joey MacDonald, Curtis Joseph, and Ty Conklin).

I haven’t talked to one Red Wings’ fan that rides the fence when it comes to goaltenders. They either love or hate a certain goaltender. There is no middle ground. In fact, there are probably fans that will disagree with the names I listed above. It’s all a matter of opinion.

That said, we are in the midst of another battle between the pipes.

Jimmy Howard vs. Jonas Gustavsson

Throw all your bias out the window and let’s examine the stats for the 2013-14 season.

Jimmy Howard: 37 games (13-14-10), 2.64 goals against, and .912 save percentage.

Jonas Gustavsson: 24 games (15-4-3), 2.54 goals against, and .912 save percentage.

detroit red wings

Gustavsson’s career stats: 138 games (56-51-19), 2.90 goals against, and .901 save percentage.

By stats alone Gustavsson wins, hands down. He was more wins in 24 games then Howard does in 37 games played, he is better in goals against, and has the same save percentage.

However, the elephant in the room is that Jimmy Howard signed a contract extension nearly a year ago that pays over five million a year all the way through the 2019-20 season. The classic “he is our guy no matter what and he isn’t going anywhere” kind of deal.

Jonas Gustavsson, on the other hand, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. There is no doubt in my mind that the Monster will be looking for a big pay day after the success he has had this year. The Wings probably won’t have deep enough pockets to bring back the back-up goaltender.

So like it or not, the Red Wings are stuck with Jimmy Howard for the long run (unless they are able to trade him away). But does that give Howard the right to be the bona fide starter?

In my opinion, the answer is no.

Right now Gustavsson is giving the Red Wings the best chance to win. The Wings look more confident and play better when he is guarding the net. The stats above prove that.

Howard is inconsistent and streaky. We are used to seeing him pick up his game as the season comes to close but I haven’t seen that from him yet and time is running out. Sure he was getting to that level before the Olympic break came, but since the NHL has resumed he has gone back to his old ways.

detroit red wings

Howard’s career stats: 271 games (144-81-36), 2.40 goals against, and .917 save percentage.

Like any other Detroit Red Wings’ fan I don’t sit on the fence when it comes to goaltenders.

As surprising as it might sound, I’m actually a Howard supporter. I do think he is the man for the future, but for right now I have to pull the plug. I don’t know what it is but for whatever reason Gustavsson is giving the team the best chance to win right now. Howard isn’t.

Does this article make me a Howard hater now? Perhaps, but that’s a matter of opinion. All I want is for the Wings to put a team out on the ice every single night that gives them the best chance win.

While stats can be misleading, there is no question (to me at least) that Gustavsson makes the Red Wings a better team right now when he is between the pipes. Don’t get me wrong, I like Howard for the long term future (until Petr Mrazek is ready to take the reins). But, the Red Wings should play the players that give them the best chance to win with the historic playoff streak on the line.

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  • Ugslick

    It’s really weird, seems to me like Howard is suffering from a bit of bad luck, and Gustavsson has made some confidence inspiring saves. Howard isn’t really making the saves beyond what is expected (most of the time). Maybe it has something to do with their play styles too, Gus is bigger and it’s easier for him to square up to the shot and get a piece. Howard has to be more agile because of his size. However Howard gets caught on one side far to often with an empty net for a goal. Gustavsson plays way closer to the crease, and is able to recover quicker without scrambling as much as Howard. Howard also seems (to me) to be over committing, and going down too early, and then has a harder time getting back up and back into the play. Usually he is pretty fast to get back on his feet, seems a bit slower this season. When you boil it down though, I want to see Howard get a back to back set of games. He plays his best when he is playing a lot. He needs to get rolling for us. We also need all the wins we can get right now, but Howard has always been more consistent than Gustavvson. Im 50-50, but in the long term it makes more sense to bank on Jimmy (especially for playoffs). We need Howard to be playing well BEFORE the playoffs though, we can’t wait until then and then see.

  • 547984

    Right, so the Wings score 7 and you talk about the goaltending. 😛

    I really don’t think Gus has played, he’s just made more of those highlight reel saves, and the team seems to play better as a whole when he’s in net. But that brings up the argument, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    I would continue to split games for the next 9-10 games, and then evaluate from there.

    • Alex Eisen

      Anybody can talk about how great the Red Wings are since they scored 7 goals… I’ll be doing that tomorrow in my weekly. :p

      Yes, they should still split games but Gus (in my opinion) deserves to get a few more games than Howard. I’ve seen enough of Howard to make that my evaluation.

    • Ryan Connery

      All that matters are the W’s . Especially right now. Winners win and I think we should stick with Gus.

      Just because the Wings score 7 goals doesn’t mean you analyze it that way. Howard could be in net and the Wings could be down 2-0 or 3-0 halfway through the second. We’re not going to know if that would of happened or not.

      Who’s winning? That’s all I care about.

      • Alex Eisen

        Exactly. Gus is, Howard isn’t. When you boil it down, it’s that simple.