SAN JOSE -- Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson's long wait will end Thursday night when he makes his first start for the Detroit Red Wings against the San Jose Sharks.
"I'm really excited," Gustavsson said after taking part in an optional morning skate at HP Pavilion. "It's been a long time since I've started in this league. This is something I've been looking forward to during the lockout and during the summer. So I'm really excited."
Gustavsson, a former Toronto Maple Leafs player, signed a two-year contract with Detroit as a free agent in July, but a nagging groin injury has limited him to two appearances in relief of starter Jimmy Howard.
"Obviously it wouldn't hurt to see him play, and I think it's important that your starting goalie doesn't have to play every night," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "The other thing about it, a real good opportunity for him. We need a win on the road, and he's capable of doing that. So, get in there and play like he can."
With the Red Wings coming off a 2-1 loss Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings and playing back-to-back games, Howard will get a much needed break after starting 18 of the first 20 games.
Gustavsson said he never expected to have to wait so long to make his first start for his new team.
"Of course that's probably not the perfect situation, but that's the way it is," Gustavsson said. "Through your career you're going to have different challenges. You just got to find a way to handle them and stay positive. Right now for me that's in the past. I'm just trying to look forward to the game tonight and worry about that."
Is he nervous?
"I'm always nervous before I play, but not to a point where it's a bad thing," Gustavsson said. "I like to feel that nervousness. It means there's something going, and that makes me sharp. That's the kind of feeling you like as a goalie. At least me."
Gustavsson played in 42 games for Toronto last season, tying his career high. He went 17-17-4 with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .902 save percent. He has appeared in 109 NHL games, all but two with Toronto, but has never faced San Jose.
"Obviously they have a really talented team," Gustavsson said. "They're a good team and a tough challenge for us, but that's what we like. That's the games you want to play, the tough games, the big challenges. I think we're all looking forward to that, and to find a way to bounce back from yesterday and get a win."
Before losing to the Kings in Los Angeles, Detroit had won back-to-back games at home, 4-0 against the Nashville Predators and 8-3 against the Vancouver Canucks.
"I like the wins, don't get me wrong, but we played better last night than we did when we won," Babcock said. "We gave up too many chances in the Nashville game for me. I'm happy with the 4-0 win, but I liked the way we played last night. You have more chances to win on a regular basis if you play that way. Now, there's no moral victories in this League. You either get points or you don't get points. We didn't get points, so we've got to turn around and do what we did yesterday and do it better."
According to Babcock, the only change in his lineup is Gustavsson for Howard. That means defensemen Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith will be in the lineup again. Smith returned to action Wednesday after missing 11 games with a shoulder injury, and Quincey returned after missing two games with an ankle injury.
Here's how the lineups could look:
Logan Couture - Joe Thornton - Martin Havlat
Patrick Marleau - Scott Gomez - Joe Pavelski
Tim Kennedy - Michal Handzus - Ryane Clowe
James Sheppard - Adam Burish - TJ Galiardi
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Brad Stuart
Dan Boyle - Matt Irwin
Douglas Murray - Justin Braun
Injuries/scratches: Tommy Wingels (upper body), Andrew Desjardins, Jason Demers
Wingels took part in the morning skate but won't play, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. He'll miss his second game since going face-first into the boards against the Dallas Stars. Irwin is expected to be in the lineup for the first time since being recalled from Worcester of the American Hockey League on Tuesday.
Johan Franzen - Henrik Zetterberg - Damien Brunner
Justin Abdelkader - Pavel Datsyuk - Daniel Cleary
Tomas Tatar - Joakim Andersson - Patrick Eaves
Drew Miller - Cory Emmerton - Jordin Tootoo
Niklas Kronwall - Jonathan Ericsson
Kyle Quincey - Brendan Smith
Brian Lashoff - Jakub Kindl
Injuries/scratches: Ian White, Kent Huskins, Valtteri Filppula (left shoulder)