Things didn’t go Jimmy Howard’s way from the opening faceoff Saturday night.
Making a rehab start for the Grand Rapids Griffins, Howard allowed two goals on Milwaukee’s first two shots in a 5-4 loss, his first game since Dec. 20.
The first goal, five minutes into the game, was a flukey wraparound goal that hit Howard’s skate, popped up over his head and fell into the net. The second goal came about four-and-a-half minutes later on an Admirals power play when a cross-crease pass from Milwaukee’s Pontus Aberg deflected off of Nathan Paetsch’s skate and into the net.
It was a nightmare start for the Detroit Red Wings goalie, who suffered a knee injury Dec. 20 against Tampa Bay. He has missed 19 games for the Red Wings.
“Aw geez, it was a tough one out there, especially with the reads,” Howard told The Hockey Writers. “You can practice, but as soon as you get into that game, all that motion out there, it was a real battle tonight finding the puck out there.”
Howard also missed seven games in late November with an injury. According to Corsica, he leads the NHL in all-situations save percentage at .934 and is seventh in five-on-five save percentage at .936 for all goalies who have played at least 600 minutes. However, he hasn’t been able to get much goal support when he has started, which is why his record is 5-7-1 with the Red Wings.
Howard got the goal support tonight from the Griffins but allowed five goals on 29 shots, only two of which were solely his fault. The Admirals’ fourth goal that gave them a 4-2 lead early in the third period happened as Howard was caught on his stomach trying to make a save. Kevin Fiala scooped up the puck and swung around the net on the left side for the wraparound.
Shaking Off Rust
After the Griffins made it 4-3 at the 2:44 mark, Milwaukee struck again less than two minutes later, when Aberg skated down the right side and fired a shot past Howard on the lower left side. It was a shot Howard normally would save with ease, but it was obvious the rust was there.
“Just part of the process,” Howard said. “Haven’t played in six-and-a-half weeks, that’s no excuse, but at the same time, just to get back out there — the knee felt fine, actually, my body felt really fine, it was just tracking the puck out there.”
Milwaukee’s third goal came with one second left in the third period. A scramble ensued in front of Howard, and he was able to make one save, but Frederick Gaudreau scored on the rebound to give the Admirals a 3-1 lead after one period.
Defenseman Brian Lashoff, who has played with Howard in Detroit as well as in 2009 with Grand Rapids, said Howard settled in after the first two goals.
“I think, early on, it was tough,” Lashoff said. “A couple bad bounces for him, but I think he did well as the game went on. There’s a sense of calm when he’s in the net. He’s a veteran, he’s been an All-Star in the NHL.”
Griffins coach Todd Nelson echoed Lashoff’s statements, saying Howard settled in after the bad breaks on the first two goals.
“The first two shots were bad luck,” Nelson said. “…Those are two goals you can’t really do anything about. So, it’s a tough start for our team.
“I thought he made some good saves. I’m sure there are a couple he’d like to have back, but for a first game back, that’s what I expected.”
Howard will get another chance to shake off the rust, as MLive.com’s Ansar Khan confirmed Howard will start for Grand Rapids against Manitoba.
— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) February 5, 2017
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.