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Red Wings goaltending successful through the years

Howard2.jpgPhiladelphia Flyers vs. Detroit Red Wings 12:30 p.m. EST - Sunday, April 4, 2010 Live on NBC

There’s no doubt that the Detroit Red Wings are the most stable and successful franchise of the past 20 years. The New Jersey Devils are a close second, but four Stanley Cup championships put the Wings over the top. What’s amazing is how Detroit has been able to change their approach over that span to stay successful even as the NHL evolved from the 1990’s free agency extravaganza to the post-lockout era.

What’s incredible is how they’ve been able to do it, no matter who might be in net.

Since the Red Wings’ dynasty truly began in 1996, there have been two staples in net: Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasak. Both goaltenders won Stanley Cups with the team, left via free agency only to return later in their careers to have further success.

Now we have Jimmy Howard, the next to carry the torch.

Defense or goaltending?

It’s the chicken or the egg question; has the Red Wings’ goaltending all these years been truly great, or has the stellar defense Detroit is known for been the main contributor to the team’s success? Less take a look at the regular season stats for Detroit’s goaltending in each Stanley Cup season:

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The goals-against numbers certainly stand out (although in 96-98 those were just...alright), but it’s the save percentage that is the true measure. 91% is a good median for success, the Detroit goaltenders have always hovered around that number. Osgood and Hasak split time in 07-08, but Hasak was just horrible that season. Relatively, at least.

So the Detroit goaltenders were great, but not exactly dominant. Once the playoffs started they were out of this world, but in the regular season they good enough to be great. That Osgood had struggles elsewhere speaks to how successful the Detroit system truly is.

Next in line: Jimmy Howard

Jimmy Howard is on his way to being better than both. Well, in the regular season at least. The rookie sensation has stolen the starting position from Osgood (who continues to decline, expectantly) and is on pace to have one of the better seasons for the Red Wings than they’ve had in a long time. The wins (34) are impressive, the GAA is nice (2.30), but it’s the .923 save percentage that stands out. That’s the best test of a goaltender’s effectiveness, and Howard has only become better as the season progressed.

Of course, having success in the playoffs versus the regular season is the true test. Having a veteran like Osgood backing you is perhaps the best scenario any goaltender can ask for.