Howard's 'elite' goaltending makes Red Wings' trade-deadline decisions that much tougher

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Goalie Jimmy Howard stopped 42 shots in the Red Wings' win over the Kings Monday.

Washington, D.C. — Jimmy Howard is direct and forthcoming, and knows how the sport works.

As an NHL goaltender, Howard knows it’ll be up to him certain evenings to steal a game as his teammates in front of him struggle to defend,

Likewise, there will be certain evenings when Howard isn’t at his best. And it’ll be the Red Wings who’ll have to give a little extra to bail their goalie out.

It’s been Howard, more often than not this season, who has swiped some games.

The latest was Monday’s victory over Los Angeles, Howard making a season-high 42 saves.

 “For me it’s all bout getting wins,” said Howard, who moved into 10th place in league save percentage (.923) after Monday’s game, along with a fine 2.68 goals-against average. “Part of my job is going out there and making saves, and very once in a while, stealing one.”

Said coach Jeff Blashill: “Jimmy was the difference."

So it remains an intriguing topic as the NHL looks toward the trade deadline Feb. 25. What will the Wings do with Jimmy Howard?

He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July, and with slim goaltending depth in the organization, the smart money says the Wings will re-sign Howard, who’ll be 35 just before the playoffs begin, for another two or three years.

But, what if, the Red Wings slip out of playoff contention, and Howard continues to play at the level he’s been playing at? There are contenders, or near contenders — Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Edmonton, Anaheim, Carolina, Calgary — that could use Howard as a starter or a Plan B, with their No. 1 option in question.

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General manager Ken Holland wants a first-round draft pick to even begin thinking about dealing Howard.

The way things are going, you’d think Holland would be able to get it.

But, there remains the question of how the Wings would go about replacing Howard’s steadiness — there are no guarantees Howard would return to the Wings on July 1 as a free agent — in net.

“This season, it has helped going into games knowing that we are going to get solid goaltending,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “We just have to do our job (up front).”

Howard is basically on his third consecutive season of goaltending at a top-tier level, and that would be difficult for the Wings’ to trade away.

“It’s really difficult to win in this league without great goaltending, or what I’d call elite goaltending,” Blashill said. “Jimmy has given us that the majority of time the last couple years.

“He had a little segment last year coming out of the bye week that he wasn’t as sharp. But other than that, he’s been excellent. It’s hard to win in this league without it.”

Keen study

Larkin seemed to know Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty was going to slide at him and attempt to knock the puck off Larkin’s stick, right before Larkin’s goal Monday.

Instinctively, Larkin skated away from the slide, and went in alone on goaltender Jonathan Quick, who was defenseless to stop Larkin.

“The puck was there,” Larkin said. “I’ve seen Doughty slide like that a couple times, so I was figuring he was going to do that. I just saw it unfold in front of me. It was as pretty lucky play.”

Blashill liked Larkin’s preparation in terms of that play, or sequence.

“We didn’t have that on our prep,” said Blashill of Doughty’s tendency to slide on similar plays. “Sometimes we do. That’s the level of depth Dylan looks into it. He’s a hockey guy, he wants to know everything about everything.

“Doughty is a heck of a player, one of the best in the league. He’s probably been the best in the league for a lot of years. Dylan made a real nice play and it shows the continued growth in Dylan’s development that he’s got that kind of poise to finish the play off.”

Twitter: @tkulfan