He was coming off one of his worst starts of the season. Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard allowed three goals in 20 shots against the New York Islanders on Tuesday before coach Mike Babcock pulled him.After making the switch to Chris Osgood, Babcock told Howard that the decision had nothing to do with his play. It was a chance to get Osgood some work. Maybe spark the team.Howard is in that rhythm. At some point, they're going to need Osgood there too."You have to play, obviously," Osgood said. "You have to get games to play and get in that rhythm."
"I made it very clear when I pulled him," Babcock said.But Howard, a 25-year-old rookie, still felt bad. In part, it was because he couldn't make enough stops to help his road-weary team finish its trip strong. But also because it meant Osgood had to come off the bench cold, jumping into action for the first time since Dec. 20."Yeah, I feel so bad," Howard said. "You never want to get pulled.""We laughed about it after," Osgood said. "I told Jimmy, 'Never let that happen again. I'm not 27 anymore.' "But Howard bounced back. He passed another test in what's becoming one of the NHL's most impressive rookie seasons. On Thursday, his next start, he stopped 37-of-38 shots to beat the Carolina Hurricanes. It was his 17th victory of the season, with his goals-against average dropping to 2.17 -- a number just outside the top five and only slightly higher than Martin Brodeur's 2.14.After the Carolina win, Howard was unlacing his skates while trying to explain the importance of the bounce-back game. How was an inexperienced NHL goalie able to shake off a rough start so easily?He stopped messing with the skates and pointed to the veteran to his right who was peeling off mostly dry hockey gear.There was the answer: Chris Osgood. The reason Howard is succeeding is because of Osgood."I'm just trying to stay in the moment and he's taught me how to do that. He's one of the best in the league at that," Howard told Sporting News. "He knows how to let things roll off his back and just continue to push forward."And now, Osgood continues to push. Even if it hasn't been easy.According to Babcock, Howard will start again Saturday in Dallas. Following the Carolina game, he wasn't ruling out another Howard start on Sunday.Osgood, meanwhile, has made one start in the past month."The way the league works, the guy who is playing good gets to play," Babcock explained.But at some point, doesn't Osgood need to get some regular action? Don't you have to get one of the game's best playoff goalies ready for the playoffs?"We're not in the playoffs," Babcock shot back. "We have to win games."When Howard's string of starts got rolling, it definitely pulled at Osgood. On one hand, he was proud. Osgood has liked the young goalie since the Red Wings drafted him in the second round in 2003.He used to check in on him in Grand Rapids, offering tips and advice on what it took to be an NHL goalie. They frequently chat on the phone, so much, in fact, that Osgood recently joked he had to tell Howard to stop calling him because he was cutting into family time.When Howard's season debut was a flop in Europe, Osgood was one of his loudest defenders in a sea of critics. And let's not forget, there were plenty."I didn't like (Howard)," admits one NHL scout. "I didn't like him in the minors, but he's played better in the NHL than he did in the minors."But Osgood was insistent. Howard is going to be good. Really good."I was constantly telling people that," Osgood said.He was right. And now, the success comes at Osgood's expense.That's the other hand and it pulled at Osgood. This isn't how he envisioned his career winding down. At 37 years old, he has achievements he still wants to accomplish. He's coming off a season in which he was one playoff win away from a Conn Smythe Trophy -- he was that good in the 2009 playoffs.That wasn't that long ago. The extended trip to the bench wasn't supposed to happen this quickly."You have to figure it out, sometimes it's tough," Osgood said. "I've definitely wrestled with it a lot … I've come to the conclusion that you can't push it one way or the other. You have to let things happen. That's how you finish the right way."It's a balancing act. But if Osgood is going to lean one way, it's going to be toward the side of helping a young teammate."I don't think if you're a bad guy, things ever turn out the right way," Osgood said.This is still a playoff team in Detroit, but the days of shuffling lines and roles just to see how players respond are gone. Every win is huge. Every point is huge.Babcock is riding the hot goalie, but at some point he'll have to make a decision. Can you let the playoff-tested veteran grow stale on the bench? Because that's exactly what's happening.
And this is why I think Osgood would be an excellent back-up to Quick. Of course, for that to happen, the Wings would have to be sellers. And I doubt they'll let that happen.