'I have to step up': Jimmy Howard takes blame for Red Wings' recent struggles

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Newark, N.J. — Jimmy Howard was putting the blame on himself.

The Detroit Red Wings had just lost again Thursday night, this time letting Columbus rally in third period for a 5-4 victory. There were a variety of things that went wrong.

But Howard was shouldering the lion’s share of the blame. He believed he failed to make a needed stop when the Blue Jackets were mounting their comeback.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Eric Robinson scores past Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard during the third period Thursday night.

“I have to step up and make some saves for the guys, it’s as simple as that,” Howard said. “It’s frustrating. When you score four goals we expect to win. You can’t give up five goals. I have to find a way to make more saves for the guys.”

Thursday’s loss was just the latest in a rocky season for Howard. He is 2-9-1, with a 3.98 goals-against average and .883 save percentage. Howard’s last win was Oct. 29 against Edmonton — with the opening night victory against Nashville the only other victory.

Howard insists he has felt good in net, despite his poor statistics.

“Funny part is, I’ve felt great,” Howard said. “I’ve felt good every game. Felt comfortable in San Jose (last week, an overtime loss), felt comfortable again (Thursday). I just have to find a way to have pucks hit me.”

Howard, 35, signed a one-year contract worth $4 million after the trade deadline passed last season.

The belief has been if Howard could maintain the level of goaltending he’s provided the last several seasons, he’d either be dealt at the trade deadline for a draft pick – never mind, at this point, thinking about next season.

But Howard’s struggles are putting a damper on the possibility of any potential trades.

Jonathan Bernier took over the quasi-starter for a stretch of four games. But Bernier has lost his last two starts, forcing coach Jeff Blashill to alternate between Bernier and Howard since.

“We’re going to win as a group and lose as a group,” Blashill said. “As a group we have to be better.

“For me, Jimmy is like the rest of our team. He played good in lots of parts of the game (Thursday), and we all have to find a way to be better, and as we get into the third period, win a game.”

This is hardly the first time in Howard’s 11-year career that he’s gone through a slump. The best way to get out of it, Howard has learned, is to get back on the ice quickly and work through it.

Some positive luck would be nice, too.

“It’s just getting a couple bounces here and there, and get the ball rolling,” Howard said. “I just have to stick to it and keep having a positive mind-frame and keep working hard.

“I have to step up and make some saves for the guys.”

Tyler Bertuzzi

Battlin’ Bert

Much is made of Anthony Mantha’s big offensive season, and for good reason with a team-leading 12 goals.

But linemate Tyler Bertuzzi, with his two goals against Columbus, now has 10, right behind Mantha.

The Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Mantha line continues to be a consistent threat on a Wings team that hasn’t had many this season.

“Tyler, for a lot of stretches of the year, has done a really good job,” Blashill said. “He’s getting a hell of an opportunity and he’s doing a real good job. I like Tyler a lot. He’s a competitor, a smart player and he’s got good skill.”

Bad power play

Blashill wasn’t happy with the execution on the power play Thursday, particularly during a 5-on-3 the Wings enjoyed for more than a minute early in the second period.

Leading 2-1, the Wings could have extended the lead and taken control. Instead, the Wings failed to record a shot.

“I would call it poor decisions,” Blashill said. “Poor decisions with the puck. It’s a little unfortunate when you shoot the puck like Mo (Mantha) shoots it and you miss the net and it goes out of the zone. That’s unfortunate.

“But then we made poor decisions. When you have five versus three (players), making smart decisions becomes a real important thing. We didn’t make enough smart decisions.”

The Wings (who did score a shorthanded goal, by Luke Glendening) failed to score on three power plays — Columbus scored twice — and Blashill hinted there could be personnel changes on the power-play unit.

Right now, the chemistry does seem out of kilter.

“We have to get better as a group and be more on the same page,” Bertuzzi said. “We need to score on those (situations) and get ourselves back in the game.”

Ice chips

The Wings assigned forward Givani Smith back to Grand Rapids. Smith, 21, has played in five games for the Wings this season, still looking for his first point.

… The Wings are likely to get defenseman Patrik Nemeth (leg infection) back Saturday in New Jersey.

Red Wings at Devils

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Devils (7-9-4) have struggled coming out of the gate this season, despite numerous additions during the offseason. … Goaltending has a big drawback (3.55 GAA; only the Wings are worse at 3.75). ... Rookie C Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick, has gotten off to a fair start (10 points) while LW Taylor Hall (15 assists, 17 points) leads offensively.


Twitter: @tkulfan