The rookie goalie who is going to lead the Detroit Red Wings into the playoffs has one thing going for him.
He’s too dumb to know what he’s getting himself into.
Don’t gasp; that’s not a put-down. First of all, I didn’t call Jimmy Howard stupid. I’m calling him dumb. As in “ignorance is bliss.”
Howard is 26 and he’s played as many minutes of playoff hockey as I have, and you, too.
Zero, zilch, nada.
The Red Wings, first of all, don’t start rookie goalies in the playoffs. I think it says so on their contract with the league.
But contracts, like records, are meant to be broken. Sometimes you don’t even need a lawyer.
Howard has been given the key to the executive goalie washroom, and just because he looks like the kid who should actually be cleaning that washroom appears not to bother his coach, Mike Babcock.
Babcock is riding Howard like a carousel horse, for that’s about as bumpy as it’s been with Jimmy in net. The kid has started all but one game for the Red Wings since January 27. Every night, he gives them a chance to win—not that his teammates have always taken advantage of that little nicety.
They’re doing it now, though. The post-Olympic Red Wings resemble those before the Games like a Barry Bonds “before” and “after” photo comparison.
FSD’s Mickey Redmond said it best the other night about Red Wings goalies and the playoffs.
“We don’t expect you to win it for us, but don’t lose it for us, either,” Mick said.
This is playoff time in Hockeytown, and in the past that’s meant the veteran Mike Vernon, or the veteran Dominik Hasek, or the veteran Chris Osgood. See a pattern here?
Playoff hockey in the Detroit net isn’t supposed to be a rookie named Jimmy.
But I’ll say it again: Jimmy Howard is dumb.
He must be, or else he’s a hell of an actor. Some of that ice water that they use to spray on the floor of Joe Louis Arena must be coursing through his veins.
You listen to Howard in post-game chats and he is as much aware of what awaits him next week as a laboratory mouse.
He speaks as if he’s been the starting goalie here for six years, not six months. People worry about Babcock wearing him down by playing him so much. You’d have better luck running a four-year-old ragged after a trip to the candy store.
Howard isn’t getting tired, he’s getting mature. Real fast.
And that’s about to get faster next week when the playoffs start.
No matter. Howard’s body language on the ice is another clue that the kid is blissfully ignorant.
There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about the confident goalie. It’s not an easy thing to describe but it’s very blatant to notice.
Howard has it. It might be that he’s on auto pilot, or is still working on the adrenalin from some game last November. Regardless, it’s working. He’s stopping shots as if he’s part brick wall. If one gets by him anymore, you want to do a double-take.
Babcock is another who isn’t stupid, but he’s not dumb, either. The coach knows what he’s got, and in his mind, he doesn’t have himself a rookie. It hasn’t taken a lot of convincing lately; Howard is among the very best goalies in the entire NHL—rookie, veteran, what have you.
Howard is the team’s MVP. By far. That’s dumb, too. But true.
There hasn’t been a rags-to-riches rookie story like this in Detroit since Mark Fidrych. You heard me.
Look at what the expectations of Howard were back in October, and look at him now.
Fidrych was the last man to make the 1976 Tigers roster. Mid-May was upon us and he hadn’t started a game.
You know what happened after that.
Jimmy Howard is a rookie in legal definition only. He’s just too dumb to know it.
And he’s making the other teams’ snipers look stupid.