DETROIT – With the Red Wings facing a stretch of three games in four days – beginning Thursday night in St. Louis – coach Mike Babcock would like to give his starting goalie a breather.
Jimmy Howard is one of four NHL goalies to start every game this season. And while the Wings’ workhorse is used to carrying the load, eventually the compressed 48-game shorted season will catch up to any netminder.
“Obviously, he’s been getting too much (work),” said Babcock, who gave Howard the day off from practice on Wednesday. “He’s played great for us, but we’re giving up too much the last couple nights so get him freshened up.”
Howard has a 3.07 goals-against, the highest among the four goaltenders who started all nine games for their clubs. He’s played all but 19-minutes this season when he was lifted in the season-opening loss at St. Louis.
Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to Calgary marked the sixth time this season that Howard has yielded three or more goals in a game. He allowed three or more goals 19 times last season.
With Jonas Gustavsson (groin) still on injured reserve and Joey MacDonald (back) awaiting medical clearance to play, the Wings recalled prospect Petr Mrazek from Grand Rapids this week. The 20-year-old has been on fire in the AHL – even earning a spot in the league’s all-star game last week – but whether or not Babcock is comfortable with the young Czech star remains a mystery. As of Wednesday, before the team took-off for St. Louis, Babcock was uncertain of who would face the Blues on Thursday.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” he said. “We’re just going to go day-to-day and make my decision tomorrow on who’s starting tomorrow and the same thing every day after that.”
The good news is that MacDonald, who hasn’t played since last March, is close to a return. The seven-year veteran even made the trip to St. Louis, where he at least plans to participate in Thursday’s morning skate.
MacDonald said he’ll see a back specialist on Friday and hopes that he be available to play either Saturday against Edmonton or Sunday against Los Angeles.
“I feel good on the ice. There’s no pain sliding side to side like I had before, so I think it’s just getting back with the timing and stuff like that,” he said. “Howie’s been riding it for awhile and a short season is tough to do, so he needs a break.”
Whoever is in net, the Wings know that cutting down on penalties is a crucial issue. Detroit has nearly doubled their penalty rate from a season ago when the Wings averaged the second fewest penalty minutes per game (8.5). Through nine games, Detroit is No. 20, averaging 15.4 PIM.
“If you look at them and go through them like I did, I don’t think anyone thinks, ‘Geez, that’s an awful penalty.’” Babcock said. “When you put your free hand on somebody you’re going to the box. You knock someone’s feet from under them you’re going to the box. So let’s look after it. Those are things we can control. The big thing for me is when it’s details and work ethic, things we can control, those things should never ever happen.”
Detroit has allowed a league-high 13 power-play goals on 43 chances. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall said that cutting down on the penalties will help a struggling penalty kill.
“We’re spending way too much time in the box, so we’re shortening out the bench as far as who’s playing on the PK,” Kronwall said. “We need to do a better job staying out of the box, but at the same time we need to play quicker on defense. Win the puck back, that way we can go on offense.”
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