The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/07/12 at 05:16 PM ET
In the wake of the Red Wings’ 3-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes and 5-4 loss to tomorrow’s opponent, the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-less Oilers, a pair of pundits are weighing in as to what the Red Wings might want to do given Jimmy Howard’s status as on the shelf until he can handle the pain of taking shots while playing with a broken index finger grasping his goal stick.
Count me among those who feel the Red Wings would be wise to cover their tracks at goalie. It’s been a couple years since Ty Conklin has played well, and he has precious little playoff experience. Joey MacDonald is fine in a pinch, but he is the goaltending/hockey version of a 4-A player in baseball.
Sure, Jimmy Howard is the Red Wings goalie. He’s earned that. Also, count me among those who feel he is capable to backstopping the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup championship this spring.
And he will come back from his broken finger. Thing is, the Red Wings can’t waste the opportunity to get the top-seed in the Western Conference while Howard is out for a month or so. It hurt them badly the last two seasons in the playoffs not to have the home-ice edge in just the second series, each time against San Jose. Also, what if Howard were to get injured in the playoffs?
Last year, the Red Wings couldn’t get Evgeni Nabokov. He was claimed on waivers by the Islanders. This year, it is different. He has a cap-friendly salary, is playing well this season, his team is going nowhere and he is eligible for free agency this summer.
The Red Wings have depth to trade to get Nabokov, and still plenty of cap space to add to their team otherwise at the trade deadline for Cup run.
Time couldn’t be better to move on a deal.
While Fox Sports Detroit and Sports Illustrated’s Darren Eliot suggests that Ty Conklin’s played shakily enough for the Wings to be particularly concerned but not panicky regarding Conklin’s seeming inability to hold onto his own job:
Saturday night in Edmonton, though, it was all about establishing a base for playing a block of games as the go-to guy in Howard’s absence. It couldn’t have gone much worse, as Conklin and the Wings yielded three goals, trailed 3-1 after one period—with the third tally coming just after Detroit had pulled to 2-1 and just before the final tick of the clock sent the teams to intermission. The timing of both—the late goal and Conklin’s tentative performance—clouded Detroit’s course of action in the big picture.
In the short-term, Joey MacDonald came in—freshly recalled from Grand Rapids in the AHL—to begin the second period. He played with poise and confidence, allowing the Wings to come back and get a point although they lost their first shootout of the season. He played exactly the way coach Mike Babcock was looking for from Conklin.
Babcock’s quick hook of Conklin didn’t feel as if it was solely rooted in the moment. Conklin’s body of work as the backup hasn’t endeared him to the coach, thus his short stint in net before being sent to the bench. Babcock then turned to MacDonald on Monday night in Phoenix, but the Wings fell 3-1. With a six-game home stand looming, is more than Detroit’s 18-game win streak at Joe Louis Arena on the line with Howard on the shelf?
I mean, can the Wings truly keep their standing in the ultra-competitive Central Division and Western Conference with Conklin and MacDonald in tandem for a significant stretch? Doesn’t Holland have to look at available goaltenders—particularly since the coach hasn’t seen the necessary puck-stopping from Conklin to make him feel comfortable?
Opting to start MacDonald in Phoenix indicates a need in the short-term beyond who is on the roster. Now it becomes Holland’s decision to weigh the merits of adding a goaltender for the stretch drive against the long-term cost of dealing prospects, picks and/or players as the core of his team gets older.
Yet, the list of candidates who could step in and make a difference is short and sketchy. Marty Turco is playing in Europe and can opt out of that contract if he receives a NHL offer prior to the trade deadline. The Islanders have Evgeni Nabokov—a logical but potentially pricy option, as well as Al Montoya. Michael Leighton is staying sharp in the AHL, but is he any different than MacDonald?
Ken Holland’s reality is that he needs Conklin and MacDonald to piece together six solid outings on home ice and hold the Red Wings’ position in the standings. Both have won in the NHL before, and with no real upgrade available, this is their time. And it will be manageable if indeed Howard returns in two weeks as he predicted. Any longer than that, Holland’s decision gets tougher, as does the challenge for the Red Wings to stay atop the Central Division without their All-Star netminder.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.