Howard resumes practicing, could play next week


Jimmy Howard hasn’t played since Jan. 10 because of a torn groin muscle, but on Tuesday the Red Wings goaltender took a big step forward by participating in Detroit’s practice. He still won’t be available on Thursday against Colorado or Saturday versus Arizona, but if all goes well he’ll return for Detroit’s game against Pittsburgh on Feb. 11.

“That’s what we’re shooting for,” said Howard, per the team’s website. “At first we had Phoenix circled but we thought (that) would probably be just rushing it a little too much and Pitt will allow me a couple more practices to push it.”

With Jonas Gustavsson also sidelined, Detroit has been forced to lean heavily on 22-year-old netminder Petr Mrazek. He’s been something of a mixed bag, but Detroit has nevertheless rallied in Howard’s absence, winning six of its last seven contests. Howard’s return could help solidify the Red Wings’ recent gains as the goaltender has a superb 2.11 GAA and .920 save percentage in 32 games this season.

Going into Tuesday’s action, the Red Wings are just one point shy of the Eastern Conference leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

Red Wings’ youth shines vs. Isles for ninth win in 11 games


If the New York Islanders can be regarded as genuine Stanley Cup contenders this season, then is the same true of the Red Wings? Detroit has certainly looked like a serious threat lately with nine victories in its last 11 contests, including a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders this afternoon.

In a year that was supposed to be an extension of the Red Wings’ efforts to rebuild on the fly, Detroit’s youngsters appropriately led the charge against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar, and Gustav Nyquist each found the back of the net. All three are 25 years old or younger and the latter are the first two Red Wings to reach the 20-goal milestone this season.

Of course, for some players, you’re considered a veteran at the age of 25, but Detroit’s 23-season playoffs streak has prevented them from drafting the super prospects that you sometimes see make the jump from the juniors to NHL with little to no AHL experience. Instead, the Red Wings have focused on slowly developing its players in the minors before gradually being eased into regular roles in the NHL. That approach has paid off as Detroit passes the baton from one generation to the next without enduring a single disastrous season along the way.

One exception to that method is goaltender Petr Mrazek, 22, who has been thrust into service ahead of schedule due to injuries. Lately Detroit has been missing both starting goalie Jimmy Howard and backup Jonas Gustavsson, but what had the potential to be a crippling setback hasn’t slowed the Red Wings. That hasn’t always been thanks to Mrazek, but he certainly did his part today, stopping 21 of 22 shots.

By contrast, Islanders backup goaltender, Chad Johnson, hasn’t been effective this season. Johnson surrendered four goals on just 19 shots against Detroit, making this the sixth time in seven starts that he’s allowed at least three goals.

With a 29-12-9, Detroit has moved into second place in the Eastern Conference with 67 points. The Red Wings are tied with Montreal in terms of points, but the Canadiens have played in two fewer contests. The Islanders are now stuck in fourth place, but are just two points shy in the tight race. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has 66 points ahead of its game against Columbus tonight.

Red Wings, Islanders face off in unlikely battle for the East


Going into this season, not many people would have picked the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings to be serious contenders for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but that’s the situation we’re in as we close the books on January.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning lead the Eastern Conference pack with a 31-15-4 record, the Red Wings and Islanders are a mere point behind. Additionally, they’re arguably in a better spot as they have respectively played one and two fewer games than Tampa Bay. By the end of the day, we might have a new conference leader and this afternoon’s game between Detroit and the Islanders will obviously influence that.

Much has been said in recent weeks about the Islanders’ success as they’ve forced the conversation to shift from whether they’re a playoff team to if they’re a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. To that end, these next few weeks will be a key test of their depth and perseverance as they’re playing without first line forward Kyle Okposo (upper body).

Detroit is in a similarly tough spot as goaltenders Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson have been sidelined. However, even with third-string netminder Petr Mrazek leading the charge, Detroit has managed to win eight of its last 10 contests.

In recent years the Red Wings have gone from being one of the most feared teams in the league to a squad that was viewed as being on the bubble of even making the playoffs at all. Their rapid rise back to prominence is a testament to their ability to rebuild internally without the need for top draft picks.

“They have a real good mix of young players that possess a lot of speed,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano noted, per his team’s website. “It’s a great feeder system in Grand Rapids. They’ve been doing a good job, and they draft well. It’s a credit to them because when they put those young guys in the lineup, they don’t rush them. They’ve paid their dues down there and they’ve played extremely well.”

Meanwhile, Montreal is also in the mix for the East’s top spot and will play against Washington this afternoon. Tampa Bay will face Columbus tonight.


PHT Morning Skate: Mike Bossy thinks the Isles can win the Cup

Howard (torn groin) resumes skating, could return sooner than expected


The Detroit Red Wings received some good news out of the All-Star break on Monday, as Jimmy Howard skated for the first time since tearing a groin muscle on Jan. 10.

What’s more, Howard is gunning to return to action in 1-2 weeks time, which would be quicker than his original 2-4 week timetable.

“Just basically did skating,” Howard said Monday, per the Detroit website. “I haven’t been on the ice since the injury. Just trying to get my feet back under me right now. … I’m still a little ways away.

“Hopefully I keep making the right strides.”

This is a fairly significant development for the 30-year-old ‘tender, who looked to have suffered a serious injury after he was stretchered off against Washington two weeks ago:

Howard (16-7-7, 2.11 GAA, .920 save percentage), who made his second career All-Star Game this year but was forced out due to the groin tear, has missed the Red Wings’ last five games but has been ably replaced by Petr Mrazek and Thomas McCollum, who’ve combined to go undefeated over that stretch.

What’s more, the Wings say a return is near for another injured goalie — No. 2 Jonas Gustavsson — though Mike Babcock shot down the notion that ‘The Monster’ would be back in time for this week’s games in Florida (on Tuesday) and Tampa Bay (on Thursday).

Goalie nods: All-Czech matchup for Hasek night in Buffalo

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Czech affair

A fitting goaltending duel in Buffalo tonight as the Sabres retire Dominik Hasek’s No. 39: Michal Neuvirth will go up against Petr Mrazek as two of the NHL’s three active Czech goalies battle it out.

Mrazek, back with the Red Wings after injuries to Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson, has posted a 5-3-1 record with a 2.29 GAA and .916 save percentage this year. He did allow two goals on just 12 shots in relief of Howard on Saturday against Washington, though.

Neuvirth, meanwhile, will look to build on one of the finest performances of his career. He was brilliant in Friday’s 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay, making 45 saves on 47 shots for a .957 save percentage. While the 26-year-old’s numbers on the year aren’t great — 3-11-1, .909 save percentage, 3.36 GAA — Neuvirth has had a couple good outings lately, which included stops on 31 of 33 shots in a loss to Florida on Jan. 2.


Bolts at Bruins: Tuukka Rask likely for Boston, no word yet on a Tampa Bay starter.

Isles at Rangers: Jaroslav Halak vs. Henrik Lundqvist

Wild at Pens: Niklas Backstrom vs. Marc-Andre Fleury

Avs at ‘Canes: Calvin Pickard vs. Anton Khudobin

Panthers at Jets: Roberto Luongo vs. Michael Hutchinson

Canucks vs. Preds: Eddie Lack for Vancouver, Pekka Rinne likely for Nashville.

Oilers at Blues: Ben Scrivens vs. Jake Allen

Sens at Stars: Robin Lehner for Ottawa, Kari Lehtonen likely for Dallas.

Sharks at Coyotes: Devan Dubnyk for Arizona, Antti Niemi likely for San Jose.