CHICAGO -- Jimmy Howard
has to get back in net at some point, so why not make his return from a broken finger in one of the toughest buildings to play, against a team that's on a three-game winning streak?
That's the approach that Howard, the Detroit Red Wings
starting goalie, is taking coming into Tuesday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks
at the United Center (NBCSN,TSN2). Howard broke the index finger on his right [blocker side] hand on Feb. 2 in Vancouver and hasn't played since -- a span of eight games and 19 days.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," said Howard, who has 32 wins in 44 starts. "Why not? No matter where you play now in the NHL, with the parity, it's always tough. So, it might as well be here in Chicago. I always enjoy playing here and it's always a great atmosphere."
In the time he's been out, the Wings returned from the road trip where he got hurt and won six straight games at Joe Louis Arena to set the NHL record with 23 straight home victories. Howard won the first 17 and then watched 32-year old journeyman backup Joey MacDonald
win the last six.
Aside from the anxiousness of watching games, the biggest issues in Howard's recovery have been finding the right comfort level for his injured digit while holding the goalie stick and tracking the puck with traffic in front of him.
The puck-tracking probably just requires him to get back into games and get his anticipation and feel for stopping pucks back, while the stick has been altered to adjust to the finger. Howard originally had a notch cut out of the stick to accommodate where his gloved and bandaged finger would rest, but he did away with it because the notch was too big and it felt awkward.
He went back to an unaltered stick for a few practices and then came back recently with another notched cue -- only this one with a less pronounced slot cut out of it.
"The one that I used [Monday], with the way that it's cut out, the notch isn't as big so my hand isn't as far down on the paddle," Howard said. "It makes it easier to use. We've continued to tinker and still tinkering with stuff. It seems like we've gotten a good mix here. We're just trying to find ways to make it more comfortable with holding onto the stick and trying to be as realistic as possible out there with it."
As for the pain level with the finger?
"The pain level isn't really a factor anymore," Howard said. "It's more so, just being comfortable out there and using the stick. We're just trying to figure out some things to make it better."