Gustavsson has been sidelined with a pulled groin muscle since the season opener against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 19. With him sidelined, starter Jimmy Howard has played in 13 of the 15 games the Red Wings have played.
Due to the condensed season caused by the NHL lockout, the Red Wings need to get Howard more rest—and Gustavsson will be able to provide that.
Gustavsson, who has a career 2.98 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage, will be able to give Howard a breather more often than rookie goalie Petr Mrazek would. While Gustavsson's career numbers don't look impressive on the surface, he compiled them playing for a Toronto Maple Leafs team that missed the playoffs during his three seasons there.
Since Gustavsson has experience as a starter and has played in 108 NHL games, coach Mike Babcock will trust Gustavsson between the pipes. While Howard started the season well with a .907 save percentage and 2.77 goals against average in January, he's tailed off in February and only has a .895 save percentage to go along with 3.14 goals-against average.
Howard's lower numbers are a combination of many things. The Red Wings have been hit hard by key injuries to the defense and by future Hall of Fame defenseman Nick Lidstrom's retirement. But arguably the biggest factor has been the workload Howard has had to endure with Gustavsson out. The Red Wings want Howard rested for the playoff run and, hopefully, the postseason.
There's a fine line between making sure the starting goalie is rested and making sure he still plays enough to get into a rhythm. There are 33 games left in this abbreviated season. If Gustavsson can play in 10 to 12 games, that will allow Howard to remain sharp and not be as overworked as he has been so far this season.
Gustavsson's return will be critical to the Red Wings' success the rest of the way and their push towards making the playoffs.
*All statistics are as of Feb. 18