DETROIT >> Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard will be the first to admit he needs to be better.
And his coach agrees.
“We won one round in three years,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He had a real good playoff run last year. I don’t think he had as good a run this year. The bottom line is we need good goaltending like any other team in the league so the challenge for him is to really compete offseason wise.”
Howard has sandwiched two postseason clunkers between a run two years ago that saw him lead the Wings to second round, falling in overtime of Game 7 to the eventual Stanley Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks.
“You want to win more than one game over the course of the playoffs,” said Howard, who was named as one of three goalies on the USA Olympic roster. “We have a lot of time here on our hands to think about it and come back more focused next year.”
Howard played in just three of the five games in the opening round series with Boston, giving up a pair of bad goals, one each in Game 2 and 3.
“Game 2 making that mistake when the puck was rolling and sending it to poor (Brendan Smith),” Howard said. “It’s a tough one. It was in their building and it got their building alive. That’s the last thing you want heading in there. For a goalie in the playoffs you want to be stealing wins.”
In Game 3, Dougie Hamilton beat Howard over his glove to open the scoring in a 3-0 loss.
“There are 29 other teams in this league that want to win it as well,” said Howard, who missed the final two games of the series with the flu. “There is a lot of parity out there. It’s no excuse. This organization is all about winning. There needs to be more of a push from myself and everyone else as well.”
Howard finished the regular season with his worst goals-against average (2.66) and save percentage (.910) since his second season as the Wings’ starter.
“I thought it was an OK season, by no means was it a good or great season,” Howard said. “I think I can be a lot better, a lot more consistent for the guys and that’s what I’m going to work on over the course of the summer so when the puck drops here in October I’m ready and hitting the ground running.”
Howard, 30, has been Detroit’s No. 1 goalie for the last five seasons.
The Wings rewarded him last season with a six-year contract extension that pays him on average nearly $5.3 million a year.
“You have to work harder the older you get in the offseason to be that much fitter to improve your game,” Babcock said. “We’ll talk to him on what we think he needs to improve on and then we need him back better than ever.
“Whether (Petr) Mrazek plays here or (Jonas) Gustavsson plays here, Gus got half our wins this year,” Babcock continued. “The bottom line is if you’re playing every day you have to earn the right to play every day. If you’re a tandem that’s what happens but the other guy has to earn the right to make that happen so we’ll see what happens.”
Gustavsson has been Howard’s backup the last two seasons, but numerous injuries have hampered his time here. He’s an unrestricted free agent.
Mrazek will likely spend one more season in Grand Rapids before coming to Detroit fulltime.
Howard had a horrible November, which didn’t help his numbers. After winning his first start that month, he went 0-3-4 the rest of the month. Over those seven games, Howard had a 3.03 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage. He entered the month with a 2.50 GAA and .915 save percentage.
“I think I can be a lot better, across the board, just with the consistency alone,” said Howard, who ended the regular season 7-3-1. “Helping the guys go out there and get wins. It was just one of those years, statistically wise it just wasn’t very good. I think I can be a lot better. I’ve proved in the past I can be better and that’s the direction I want to move in.”
Howard was drafted by the Wings in 2003 (second round, 64th overall) and the team spent time grooming him in the minors before bringing him up when he was out of options.
In each of Howard’s first two full seasons in Detroit he recorded 37 wins, becoming the only goalie in Wings history to win at least 35 games in each of his first two seasons.
His third year he registered 35 wins.
Howard finished second to Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers in the Calder Trophy race as the NHL’s top rookie.