Can the Red Wings Win Without Jimmy Howard?

Hours after being named the Detroit Red Wings’ only All-Star, Jimmy Howard suffered a groin injury in his team’s 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

The injury happened early in the game when Howard went behind the net to play the puck. Howard left the puck behind the net thinking a teammate would come get it, instead, Troy Brouwer picked it up and stuffed it in the open net, as Howard scrambled to get back into position.

Howard had to be carried off the ice on the stretcher, and Petr Mrazek finished the game. Howard’s injury clearly affected the psyche of the rest of the team, as they played with a lack of fire for the rest of the game.

The severity of Howard’s injury will be determined Sunday, but being carried off the ice on a stretcher means there’s a good chance he could miss significant time, which begs the question: Can the Red Wings win without Howard?

The Howard Difference

Howard was having a bounce-back season this year, as evidenced by his All-Star nomination. Starting in 32 games this season, he’s been the workhorse for the Red Wings. Of course, Jonas Gustavsson went down with a shoulder injury in November, so Howard no doubt got some extra starts that Gustavsson likely would have had.

Howard is the Red Wings’ best chance to win, despite his lack of success in the shootout. Outside of the shootout, Howard is as solid as any goalie in the NHL. He challenges shooters but isn’t too aggressive, he’s always in the right position and rarely puts himself in a bad spot.

I’ve said in the past this team will only go as far as Howard takes them. If he misses significant time, it’ll be tough to keep that third spot in the Atlantic Division until he returns.

Goalie Options

Mrazek no doubt is the starter right now with Howard out. Gustavsson still is a week or two away from returning from his injury, according to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan. Once Gustavsson comes back, I expect he’ll become the starter, and Mrazek will back up again.

So who do the Red Wings call up from the Grand Rapids Griffins until Gustavsson comes back?

Well, it’s a question of would you rather have experience, or would you rather have the goalie who is playing well?

Player GP W L OTL GAA SV% SHO
Jimmy Howard 32 16 7 7 2.11 0.92 2
Jonas Gustavsson 3 1 1 1 2.29 0.908 1
Petr Mrazek 9 5 3 1 2.29 0.916 0
x-Tom McCollum 21 10 8 0 2.33 0.911 0
x-Jared Coreau 9 6 2 1 1.83 0.938 1

x-Player currently in Grand Rapids

As you can see in the table, Jared Coreau is outperforming Tom McCollum in Grand Rapids, although in McCollum’s defense, Coreau has played 12 less games than McCollum.

Coreau spent some time in Grand Rapids last year, but McCollum has been with the Griffins since the 2009-10 season. It might be better to take the goalie who has plenty of AHL experience rather than the one who just got called up from the ECHL back in November.

Can the Red Wings Win Without Howard?

The short answer is yes. Mrazek has proven himself a capable goalie in the limited time he has spent in the NHL. He would only need to start for a couple of weeks before Gustavsson comes back anyway.

And if Gustavsson can recreate the 16-5-4 season he has last year, I’m confident the Red Wings stay in the race for a playoff spot. As of Sunday, Boston is just three points behind the Red Wings for the third spot in the Atlantic Division. With Gustavsson in net, I believe the Red Wings have a shot to hang on to the third spot, but they definitely will not plummet out of the playoff race.

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Update

Howard has been placed on IR, and the Red Wings called up McCollum.

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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.