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Red Wings' Howard to miss at least a week

by Brian Hedger

DETROIT -- It could be worse for Jimmy Howard, but it could also be a lot better for the injury-plagued Detroit Red Wings goaltender.

Howard didn't practice at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, a day after leaving his start against the St. Louis Blues with a knee injury, and will likely be out at least a week.

He re-injured his left knee while making a save in the first period against the Blues, who won the game 4-1. An MCL sprain in that knee caused Howard to miss eight games in December, but this injury isn't thought to be as serious.

"There’s fluid back on the knee," Howard said. "Just … hopefully it gets out of there fast. [I] didn't do much today. [I'll] try to get the fluid out of the knee first and then get back at it."

After going through some struggles prior to the sprained knee, Howard looked more like himself in net since Jan. 1, when he was named to the U.S. roster for the upcoming 2014 Sochi Games.

Howard went 3-2-1 in six games since taking a tough 3-2 shootout loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs on New Year's Day in the 2014 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic, allowing more than two goals just one time in that span.

“It is frustrating," Howard said. "You’re moving in the right direction, you feel you’re doing all the right things and we were doing all the right things. It's just bad luck, I guess."

There's been quite a bit of that dogging the Red Wings this season. Detroit is still without a significant number of injured regulars, even with a couple of them slowly starting to trickle back into the lineup.

It seems like they just sub out healthy for returning players on the injured reserve list, which keeps them spinning their wheels in a heated competition for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Jonas Gustavsson will come off IR from a nagging groin issue to start against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena, but now Howard is out again. Rookie Petr Mrazek, who's 1-3-0 with a 1.64 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in seven games, will be the backup.

"It's tough to even put it into words," Howard said. "I've never seen something like this before. It's important for all of us to continue to have a good attitude and then try to get back as fast as possible."

As for the U.S. Olympic roster, Howard brushed aside any concern of losing his spot because of his latest ailment.

"No," he said. "First and foremost is getting the knee healthy for this organization."

The Red Wings did get some good news at practice Tuesday. Top-pair defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who's missed two large chunks of time with separate injuries, is getting close to returning from a fractured rib. Ericsson might even return against the Blackhawks, but he's still near a return even if he doesn't.

Detroit also had injured top-six forwards Pavel Datsyuk (lower body), Johan Franzen (concussion) and Daniel Alfredsson (back spasms) practicing, though none is expected to play Wednesday.

Dealing with a litany of injuries has been a theme throughout most of this season for the Red Wings (21-18-10), who are currently fifth in the Atlantic Division and sit just outside the East's final wild card playoff spot.

"You just can't let it [frustrate you], simple as that," Howard said. "[We] have to have a positive [frame of mind], do the work in the trainers room, hope for the best and get back out there and soon as you can. Even though all this is happening and we keep getting hit with injury after injury, we've got to find a way as a group to go out there and find a way to get points."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock put it even more bluntly.

"We have to get healthy, let's be honest," he said. "We ain't giving anybody a run if we're not healthy. We had those [injured] players on deck last year. We don't have them [now]."

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