DETROIT -- The tentative plan to get injured goalie Jimmy Howard [fractured finger] back in net for the Detroit Red Wings is to start him against the rival San Jose Sharks on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena.
However, there is an outside chance he might be ready for Friday night's game at The Joe against Central Division rival Nashville. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock let his coaching staff know to slot Howard in as the starter against the Sharks -- but do it in pencil.
"We'll see what happens there and if it means he's starting against Nashville or not, but he's starting sooner or later," Babcock said after Detroit's morning skate on Tuesday. "You can only get so much holiday time during the regular season."
Fine by Howard, who continues to face live shots in practices and is getting tired of the nervous anxiety he gets from watching games in the locker room.
"I'm looking forward to getting back out there and going through a whole practice where I don't come out of the net," said Howard, who's been out since fracturing his right index finger on Feb. 2 in Vancouver stopping a shot. "I think [returning Friday] is still a realistic possibility. That was the goal that was in place from the start, but if Babs and [Detroit general manager Ken Holland] want to give me another few days in practice, then that's what their game plan is."
Howard has eschewed the specialized goalie stick that he'd been using after returning for practices -- it had a notch cut out of it for his index finger to lessen the vibration of pucks hitting the stick.
"I got rid of it," Howard said. "It wasn't working, so I got rid of it. I didn't like the feel of it, so I just went back to the way the regular sticks are."
Howard also said he's feeling more comfortable tracking pucks and not flinching when hard shots send pucks screaming at his blocker side -- where the fractured finger is located.
"At first it didn't feel all that great to be back out there, but each day that's passed it's feeling a little better," Howard said. "I'm not second-guessing when shots are on my blocker. I'm not hesitating."
He will, however, have to hesitate before taking swings with his fists at opposing players who try to crowd or invade his crease looking to screen or intimidate him. Howard has already gotten into a few altercations against the St. Louis Blues this season, but can’t get into any more for a while.
"I already had to promise our finger doctor … no fighting," Howard said, laughing.
The Red Wings don't face the Blues again for a sixth and final time until April 4 in St. Louis.
"Not til the end of the season, right?" Howard said, smiling. "Plenty of time to heal."