By Darren Eliot -
Detroit Red Wings’ GM Ken Holland says he likes his team and is comfortable sitting by idly as the trade deadline looms at the end of the month. Holland’s club has the most points in the NHL right now, validating his position. And there has been much to like about this Wings team thus far. Valtteri Filppula has already set a personal best in points and linemate Jiri Hudler has produced more consistently the past two months – both developments hoped for coming into the campaign.
Further, the Red Wings have had solid depth scoring and have improved defensively overall – again, elements listed as needs coming into this season. Putting them over the top to date has been the MVP-quality season Pavel Datsyuk is turning in, the ridiculously consistent excellence of captain Nick Lidstrom and the All-Star caliber play of goaltender Jimmy Howard. Now, Howard is on the shelf for what he says will be two weeks, even though doctors pegged the recovery time to heal his injured finger at 4-6 weeks.
With that, does Mr. Holland still stand pat? Can he afford to? That depends on the ability of veteran back-up Ty Conklin. Early in the year, Howard missed a couple of games when his wife delivered their first child. Conklin did not seize the moment and the team went on to endure a six-game skid. He wasn’t the goalie of record in all, but his shaky showing played a part. The team has played so well since then that it is easy to forget that dark stretch of games. Howard’s brilliance over the subsequent three months rendered Conklin’s role one of spot duty where he has fared better in random appearances.
Saturday night in Edmonton, though, it was all about establishing a base for playing a block of games as the go-to guy in Howard’s absence. It couldn’t have gone much worse, as Conklin and the Wings yielded three goals, trailing 3-1 after one period – with the third goal coming just after the Wings had pulled to 2-1 and just before the final tick of the clock sent the teams to the intermission at that score. The timing in both senses – that late goal and Conklin’s tentative performance – couldn’t have been worse given the big picture.
In the short-term, Joey MacDonald came in to begin the second, played with poise and confidence, allowing the Wings to come back and get a point after losing their first shootout of the season. He played exactly the way coach Mike Babcock was looking for from Conklin. Babcock’s quick hook of Conklin didn’t feel as if it was solely rooted in the moment. The body of work by his back-up hasn’t endeared the coach, thus the quick hook, with no thought of letting the veteran find his game by letting him start the second period on a short leash.
If what I sense is true, can the Wings truly keep their standing in the ultra-competitive Central Division and Western Conference with Howard out? Can, then, Holland not look at goaltenders available? My feeling is that the club will monitor the goaltending situation closely. We’ll learn a lot on Monday night in Phoenix when Babcock names his starter. If he opts for MacDonald, we’ll know that he sees a need in the short-term beyond who is on the roster. Then it becomes Holland’s decision to weigh the short-term merits of adding a goaltender against the long-term cost of dealing prospects, picks and/or players.