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Howard leads Wings to 6-2 win in Sweden

by Dan Rosen
KARLSTAD, Sweden -- Even with starting goaltender Chris Osgood under the weather, backup Jimmy Howard only found out he was going to play Wednesday night after the Detroit Red Wings arrived at Lofbergs Lila Arena following a three-hour train ride.

Howard answered the call just the way coach Mike Babcock hoped he would.

Howard stopped 20 of 22 shots in a 6-2 win over Farjestads BK. He made four spectacular glove saves and was under pressure several times, especially in the first period as the Wings' struggled to get their train legs going and nerves calmed.

"I think they could have been up a couple in the first. I was like, 'Oh my God,' " Howard told "They just missed some nets."

Howard is still a question mark entering the regular season -- which begins Friday against St. Louis in the 2009 Compuware NHL Premiere-Stockholm -- because he has played in only nine NHL games since turning pro in 2005. He has spent the majority of his career in Grand Rapids with the Wings' AHL affiliate, but now they are asking him to take it to the next level and be as steady as Osgood's backup as Ty Conklin was a year ago.

So far, Babcock likes what he sees from Howard, who also played well in Sunday's 4-1 win over Pittsburgh at Joe Louis Arena.

"When you're a young kid coming into the League, if you can get yourself off to a good start and get to feeling good about yourself it's worth it's weight in gold," Babcock told "I think he has the makings of a real good goaltender. He had a very good college career. He had a good, not great, American League career. We need him to become a good goalie at this level. Ozzie is not going to do it forever, so it would be great if he could take a step."

Howard said his glove, which stole four would-be goals from Farjestads, has gotten faster and his overall game much better since training camp began.

"It's because of the way these guys shoot," Howard said. "They zip it, so it's getting quicker. There is no way you can't get better with guys like this shooting on you. You can only go up. And, having (goalie coach) Jim Bedard around every single day reiterating things for me to concentrate on makes things a lot easier on me."

The Wings staked Howard a 3-0 lead after the first period on goals by Jason Williams, Henrik Zetterberg and Brian Rafalski. However, for the first six or so minutes, Farjestads took it to Detroit pretty good and Howard had to stand on his head at times.

Save for Howard, Babcock put out an entire Swedish starting lineup with Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom and Zetterberg.

"That first shift, that was probably one of the toughest in my career," said Zetterberg, who played in his first preseason game and was named player of the game. "I didn't need that for the rest of the game. They have some skill players, some good guys. They took it right to us."

Without question, Babcock said, Detroit's third line of Valtteri Filppula, Jason Williams and Ville Leino was its best. Williams and Filppula each scored and Leino assisted on two goals. Kronwall and Todd Bertuzzi also scored for Detroit.

Howard, though, was the story.

Osgood is going to get the start Friday against St. Louis at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, but Howard could be in the net on Saturday. If he is, he'll finally get a chance to start answering all those questions for real.

"Each day of training camp I just tried to get better and better and better," Howard said. "I feel I'm playing good now. I'm seeing the puck well and it's sticking to me."

Zetterberg comes out OK -- Henrik Zetterberg said his sore groin felt good after the Wings' 6-2 win over Farjestads.

"I felt OK," said Zetterberg, who scored a goal and was named the player of the game. "The groin was good. Overall it can be a lot better. It was my first game and it was nice to be back, but I hope it's going to be better on Friday."

Zetterberg, who skipped all eight of Detroit's preseason games in North America, said he's not worried about how he'll feel when he wakes up Thursday.

"You never know, but I think it's more of a conditioning thing," he said. "It's nice to get a game in, but I need to be a lot better than this on Friday."

No decision on fourth line -- The Wings' were allowed to dress 20 skaters Wednesday night, so Babcock took advantage by rotating Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Patrick Eaves and Justin Abdelkader on the fourth line.

He was hoping a trio stood out to make his job easier, but there is still some doubt as to which players among that group will make up the Red Wings' fourth line.

"That was good, the four guys rotating through," he said. "They're going to figure that out. I'll watch and I'll see."

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