Is Trouble Brewing In Hockeytown Between Goalie Jimmy Howard And Coach Mike Babcock?

Red Wings coach, Mike Babcock, announced on Monday that veteran goalie Jimmy Howard would not be starting in Thursday nights play-off opener against the Tampa Bay Lightening. Instead, not so seasoned goalie, Petr Mrazek, will be taking his place in the crease during Game 1. So, now the question that seems to be floating around Detroit is this, has Babcock’s decision caused a rift between himself and his long time goaltender?

In a few statements that Howard has made to the media, it is clear that he is disappointed about Babccok’s decision not to start him, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that trouble is brewing between the goaltender and his coach. To Babcock, this is simply a strategic decision, Howard has not been playing his best lately, and it seems that Mrazek is ready to step up to the plate.

Jimmy Howard did admit how he felt about Babcock’s decision to the Detroit Free Press on Tuesday.

“I mean, yeah, it’s probably a given,” Howard said of being disappointed.

“It’s his decision, he’s the coach,” Howard said, referring to Babcock. “He makes the decisions around here.”

Howard says that he will continue to work hard, so that he can be there for his team when and if he ever gets called upon to play. There is still a possibility that Jimmy will get some ice-time during the Tampa Bay series. If Mrazek starts to struggle or just gets tired out, Howard will need to be ready to step in, and show off his skills.

Howard has been the Red Wings starting goaltender for the past seven seasons, so he clearly has the ability to lead the Wings to another Stanley Cup victory, but he just can’t seem to get himself since returning from his groin injury. During his media interview after Babcock’s announcement, Howard seemed clearly irritated when reporters asked how he was doing after hearing of the decision to start Mrazek.

“What kind of question is that,” he snapped. “I’m fine.”

Howard says that Babcock never said anything to him about his decision to start Mrazek, but that it’s not abnormal for him to find out from the goalie coach, Jim Bedard. The two coaches communicate the needs of the team to each other, and Bedard generally has the responsibility of relaying their decisions to both goaltenders. Jimmy didn’t seem too upset that Babcock had not taken the time to personally let him know what the starting situation was going to be.

“It’s up to him. You know, he’s probably got a lot on his plate right now.

Thankfully for the Red Wings, Jimmy Howard is a professional, and he hasn’t done anything drastic or dramatic like refusing to dress as the back-up goaltender. The Wings actually faced this dilemma during the 1987 play-offs when goaltender Greg Stefan got upset with head coach Jacques Demers over some comments he made about his starting goalies performance. Stefan made the decision to sit up near the press box, rather than to dress as Glen Hanlon’s back-up.

That event marked the beginning of the end for long-time goaltender Greg Stefan, but Jimmy Howard isn’t tossing in the towel just yet, and the Wings aren’t giving up on him either. Howard’s performance is frustrating for fans and coaches, but no one is more frustrated than Howard himself. Howard is clearly an amazing goaltender, and his record proves it. His outstanding performance during the first half of the season earned him an invitation to participate in the NHL All-Star game, and the Wings wouldn’t even be headed to Tampa without him.

We will have to tune in to the Tampa Bay series to see if Howard gets his shot, but if not, Petr Mrazek has a lot to prove to not just the fans, but also to himself. Tune in to see the Wings take on Steve Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightening Thursday night on TVA Sports, CNBC and SN.

[Photo courtesy of NHL.com]

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