No, nobody has forgotten about the Detroit Red Wings’ All-Star goaltender, the man with a 32-11-1 record, 2.03 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.
But Joey MacDonald has certainly been there to save the day — and the past four games — for the Wings while Howard recovers from a broken right index finger.
Before Howard got hurt in the third period of a shootout win in Vancouver on Feb. 2, MacDonald was toiling away for the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate.
MacDonald was 11-11-3 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. But in six games with the Wings, MacDonald is 4-1-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
MacDonald was in net Tuesday when the Wings set a new NHL record for most consecutive home victories with their 21st, a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars.
“It’s great,” MacDonald said. “It’s a record that took some time for a team to do it. It’s great to be a part of it and to be able to chip in the last few games. To be a part of this dressing room is awesome.”
The fact that MacDonald has been starting all of these games since Howard went down shows that at least in coach Mike Babcock’s mind, MacDonald has taken the backup job away from Ty Conklin, who has struggled.
“He’s got a lot of confidence right now, and I know the guys have a lot of confidence in him,” Babcock said of MacDonald. “Anytime Howie gets hurt, you wonder what’s going to happen, but the guys have done a good job.”
Stars forward Steve Ott had praise for MacDonald, a journeyman who turned 32 last week.
“It does make it hard when you dig yourselves a 2-0 hole in the first period,” Ott said. “We tried to find a way to put one in. I thought MacDonald made some pretty big saves.”
If you look at MacDonald’s statistics and wonder why they’re better at the NHL level, that’s where you have to credit the Wings, who have made it a point of emphasis this season to be better defensively. Both Howard and MacDonald have benefited from that.
Yet the goalie is the last line of defense. As Babcock said, the rest of the Wings have confidence that MacDonald will be there when he’s needed.
“He’s been real solid since the chance he had to come in, and he was like that again (Tuesday),” Nick Lidstrom said. “They had a couple chances, hit the post a couple times, but he’s in the right position and there for the first save and we’re there to help out with the rebounds.”
Perhaps the only thing MacDonald would have changed about Tuesday was allowing a goal in the last minute to Adam Burish, preventing a shutout.
“It would have been nice to get it, I haven’t had one since last year, but at this point and time it’s a win and especially on a night like (Tuesday), breaking a record like this it really didn’t matter,” MacDonald said. “A win is a win.
“We battled hard all night. We did a great job defensively. They didn’t have a whole lot they had a lot of shots from bad angles and we did a good job boxing them out.”
MacDonald signed a two-year contract with the Wings before the season, a two-way deal this season and a one-way (NHL salary) deal next season.
MacDonald considered offers from Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, including one from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. That team’s plane crashed Sept. 7, killing former Wings assistant coach Brad McCrimmon, former Wings defenseman Ruslan Salei and former Wings goalie prospect Stefan Liv.
Fortunately for MacDonald, he decided to take the Wings’ offer, not knowing it would land him in the middle of an NHL record.
“Two weeks ago, I was sitting on the coach watching, I think the 17th win, and I was thinking, wow, what a stretch, especially Howie getting all 17,” MacDonald said. “He’s been great all year. Two weeks later, what do you know? It’s hockey. It’s a funny game. You have to be ready all the time, no matter where you are.”
MacDonald is set to start Friday at home against Nashville, but Howard is working to be ready to face San Jose on Sunday afternoon at home.
Henrik Zetterberg, who has come on of late with three goals and six assists in his past six games, will not play against Nashville because of a lower-body injury, according to MLive.com. He is listed as day to day.
“It’s kind of bad timing,” Zetterberg told MLive.com. “I was starting to feel good again, and this happened.”
Dan Cleary (knee) has been placed on injured reserve, retroactive to Feb. 8.
The Wings have recalled Tomas Tatar from the Griffins.