Red Wings defeat Coyotes in shootout
DETROIT — This season just keeps getting better for Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard.
Before Thursday night's game, Howard learned he had made his first All-Star team.
During the game, Howard out-dueled Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith by stopping 25 of 27 shots in regulation and overtime, then made saves on Gilbert Brule, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Lauri Korpikoski in the shootout to earn a 3-2 victory.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg scored the shootout goals for the Wings (27-15-1).
"In a shootout it's a lot of fun out there," Howard said. "Z's goal was spectacular. Mike played really well at the other end, gave them a good shot to win."
It was a night of milestones as Howard won his 100th career NHL game, coach Mike Babcock won his 400th and Danny Cleary recorded his 200th career assist.
"It's no different than Howie for wins or Cleary with assists," Babcock said. "They're marks you think about later in life and you look at and can be proud of. It's hard to even coach long enough in this league to get 400 wins and to be in that company of those with you."
Babcock became the third fastest to reach 400 wins, achieving it in 699 games. Former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman was the fastest, reaching it in 690 games. Second was Glen Sather, who won 400 in 694 games. Toe Blake moves to fourth on the list, having reached 400 in 724 games.
But the day, night and season has been all about Howard and the steps he has taken to cement his hold on the No. 1 goaltender spot.
Even when the Wings were struggling early in the season during their six-game slide, Howard was the one constant, keeping things close even though the Wings couldn't score more than one goal a game.
"A goalie's only as good as the team in front of him," Howard said. "I'm very lucky to be able to play behind these guys, play behind a great team, I think that's why I've been able to progress at my own rate and coming into this season I felt like I could take more on my plate and be more of a game-changer for the guys."
Game-changer, indeed. Howard ranks first among goaltenders with 25 victories, sixth in goals-against average at 2.04 and ninth in save percentage at .924.
While Howard is quick to credit his teammates, they are just as quick to give him the credit.
"It's great. For Howard, it's very well-deserved," Zetterberg said of the All-Star honor. "He's been playing unbelievable for us and a big factor that we are where we are in the standings because he's really winning games for us."
With 55 points in 43 games, the Wings are fifth in the Western Conference and third in the Central Division. They're two points behind the Chicago Blackhawks and one behind the St. Louis Blues. But their plus-37 goal differential is best in the division and tied for best in the West with the Vancouver Canucks.
"It's great for him," Ian White said. "It's nice to see people rewarded for their hard work. He's definitely earned it. Played fantastic, been one of the best goalies from the start of the season so great for him."
All-Star Games are notorious for making goaltenders look silly, but Howard is looking forward to it.
"It doesn't matter, I'm going to go there and have fun and take it all in and get to meet most of the guys around the league that I look up to," Howard said. "I'm going to really cherish going to Ottawa and representing this organization."
Howard was not even on the All-Star ballot but Red Wings fans did not let that stop them from writing him in.
"I gotta say thank you to all the fans," Howard said. "Not only in Detroit, but everyone back home in Ogdensburg (NY) who rallied around me and did their voting. I really appreciate it."
As great as life has been for Howard the goaltender, his personal life has been pretty great as well with the birth of his first child, James Howard IV.
"What a great day. It's been awesome," Howard said. "I think the highlight of my day was probably when I woke up from my nap and my little guy had a T-shirt on that said 'My Daddy rocks.'"
There is one more thing that could put the icing on the cake for Howard this season -- a Stanley Cup. But there's still a lot of hockey left to play before the second season starts in April.