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Goal-starved Red Wings buoyed by Howard, youth

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- The Detroit Red Wings are so fed up with answering questions about injuries that they don't even know how to do it anymore.

"Well, I mean, I don't know what I'm supposed to say to that," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Thursday in response to a question about the team using injuries as an excuse for a second straight 1-0 loss, this time to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. "We work with the guys that are here."

Detroit will get one player back for its game Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings at Joe Louis Arena as forward Tomas Tatar has returned from Slovakia, where he was attending his father's funeral. However, five of the Red Wings' 10 Olympians will likely remain sidelined as forwards Pavel Datsyuk (lower body), Johan Franzen (concussion) and Daniel Alfredsson (back), defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (ribs) and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (groin) all won't be in the lineup Saturday.

Jimmy Howard
Goalie - DET
RECORD: 8-11-8
GAA: 2.61 | SVP: 0.916
Forwards Joakim Andersson (lower body), Darren Helm (groin) and Stephen Weiss (sports hernia) are also still out.

The Red Wings have lost two in a row, three out of four, and are 3-5-1 in their past nine games. They are sixth in the Atlantic Division and on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture right now, a precarious place to be for a team that has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs a record 22 straight seasons.

"You can't feel sorry for yourself," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "It's about getting points. The moment you start feeling sorry for yourself you start going the wrong way. We have to dig in here and really find our way through everything. Just keep playing hard.

"We have to find a way to get some goals."

The Red Wings haven't scored in their last 122 minutes and 34 seconds.

Dan Cleary's goal late in the third period on Sunday gave Detroit a 3-1 win against the Kings. Petr Mrazek made 22 saves in a 1-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks the following night and Jimmy Howard was sensational with a season-high 47 saves in a 1-0 loss to the Rangers on Thursday.

Kronwall actually had Henrik Lundqvist beat with under a minute left at the Garden after his shot hit off the post and trickled near the goal line, but the Rangers' goalie reached back to cover the puck before it could go in.

Lundqvist made 38 saves for the shutout.

"Unfortunately we can't get any goals right now," captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "Obviously it's frustrating right now."

But not everything in the Red Wings' world is being met with frustration. They've got two positive stories developing.

Howard seems to have found his game after a tough first half of the season including a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for eight straight games from Dec. 12-28. He has been solid in four of his past five starts, starting with the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, when he made 24 saves in a shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Howard followed his Winter Classic performance with a 44-save effort in a 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Jan. 4, but wasn't close to his best after a five-day layoff when he was pulled 40 minutes into a 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 9. However, he responded with another 44-save effort in the win over the Kings and followed that with his 47 saves in the loss to the Rangers.

Kronwall said he felt the Red Wings "wasted a great performance" by Howard in New York.

"My body is getting healthier as each day passes," Howard said. "I'm not feeling anything out there anymore with the knee or anything like that. It's comforting to be out there playing pain-free."

The Red Wings, though, would prefer to cut down on the number of shots that Howard has been facing. The fact he has made 135 saves in his past three starts is both impressive and alarming.

"I think a lot of times when we get in trouble … we have the puck on our stick in our zone and we don't execute right away, we don't come out of our zone as fast as we'd like to and then they come," Kronwall said.

Detroit has also discovered some of its prospects that have been playing with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League can be regular NHL players. In particular, Babcock has been impressed with forwards Tomas Jurco, Luke Glendening and Riley Sheahan.

They are the silver lining to the injury problems that have plagued the Red Wings this season.

"We just keep trying to grow our group, been doing that all year long," Babcock said. "I guess the way I look at it is we didn't know how good Sheahan is or how good Jurco is or how good Glendening is, or any of these guys unless we had injuries. They've been given good opportunity. They look to me like good NHL players and will push for jobs. That's what the NHL is all about, you get called up and you take someone's job."

Zetterberg said in particular Jurco, who turned 21 last month and was selected to the Slovakian Olympic team, is a guy who should be able to help lift Detroit out of its scoring slump. He had chances Thursday in New York and has two goals in eight games with the Red Wings this season. He leads Grand Rapids with 32 points in 32 games.

"I think the guys that have come in have played real good for us," Zetterberg said. "I don't know if Grand Rapids has any players left down there, but every guy that comes up plays real well and comes in with confidence. They really know the game, know our system. Right now that's the only good thing we have, young guys coming up and playing well."

They're going to need a heck of a lot more than that in the coming days. After the Kings on Saturday, Detroit will host the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens. Even the Florida Panthers, who come to Joe Louis Arena on Jan. 26 to complete Detroit's five-game homestand, are creeping up the standings and getting closer to the Red Wings.

"We have to find a way to get some goals," Kronwall said. "That's the bottom line."


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