Ex-Maine star Howard seeks consistency in NHL’s second half

Posted Jan. 28, 2011, at 5:45 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2011, at 9:44 p.m.

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard is kicking back during the NHL All-Star break after an up-and-down first half.

The former University of Maine All-American was the runner-up to Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers in the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) balloting last season when he posted a 37-15-10 record, a 2.26 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

He had the NHL’s fourth-best save percentage and fifth-best GAA.

So far this season, Howard is second in the league in wins (24-8-3) for the Western Conference’s Central Division leaders (30-13-6).

But Howard’s .906 save percentage is just 29th best and his 2.81 GAA is 32nd among the league’s goaltenders.

Howard acknowledged he hasn’t had the kind of year he anticipated.

“I’ve been spotty,” he said. “I’m my own worst critic and I know I need to play better. But I don’t want to push the panic button because when you do that, your game can wind up in shambles.”

With veteran Chris Osgood, Howard’s backup, on the mend due to sports hernia surgery, the Red Wings agreed to terms with longtime NHL goalie Evgeni Nobokov on a one-year contract only to have it nullified when the New York Islanders claimed him off waivers.

Because Nobokov was playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, Russia’s top league, he had to clear waivers and the injury-riddled Islanders claimed him.

The Red Wings have also been decimated by injuries, including a knee bruise that sidelined Howard for a few games after he took a shot on it.

“We’re right where we want to be, on top of the division,” said Howard on Friday. “With all the injuries we’ve had, that’s good.”

The 26-year-old Howard, who owns or shares seven Black Bear records as well as the NCAA records for lowest single-season goals-against average (1.19) and best save percentage (.956) that he set during the 2003-2004 season, said he “knew things weren’t going to come easy this season.”

“It has been a lot different than last year,” said Howard, who has a home on Green Lake in Dedham with wife Rachel (Miller). “I knew there would be some bumps in the road. You can’t get discouraged. You’ve got to keep pushing through.”

He said he didn’t take it personally when the Red Wings went after Nobokov.

“Whatever helps us win (is fine). Whatever management feels is necessary to help us at the end of the year,” said Howard.

He said his knee is 100 percent healthy, and he is looking forward to a better second half.

“I need to be more consistent in everything,” said Howard, who closed out the first half with a 23-save 3-1 win over New Jersey.

Howard is one of six former Black Bears who saw duty in the NHL during the first half.

The surprising Tampa Bay Lightning (31-15-5) have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Philadelphia, and three Black Bears have played pivotal roles for the Southeast Division leaders.

Right wing Teddy Purcell has already surpassed his previous single-season high in points with 30 on 8 goals and 22 assists, and Brett Clark (7 goals, 11 assists) and Mike Lundin (0 & 9) have been mainstays on the blue line.

Left wing Dustin Penner, coming off a career-best year with 32 goals and 31 assists for Edmonton, leads the Oilers in scoring with 16 goals and 16 assists in 49 games.

Defenseman Doug Janik has appeared in seven games with Detroit and hasn’t registered a point.

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