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Red Wings' Mrazek ready for opportunity vs. Blues

by Louie Korac / NHL.com

ST. LOUIS -- The Detroit Red Wings will place their goaltending duties in the hands of 22-year-old Petr Mrazek.

Mrazek, who is 6-3-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .920 save percentage this season playing as Jimmy Howard's backup, will start the majority of games, including Thursday against the red-hot St. Louis Blues.

Howard is listed as out 2-4 weeks with a groin injury sustained Jan. 10 against the Washington Capitals. Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder) is also on injured reserve

Mrazek is 9-8-1 with a 1.98 GAA and .923 save percentage in his NHL career, and 2-0-0 with a 0.80 GAA and .969 in three games against St. Louis.

"This is a good opportunity," Mrazek said. "Jimmy's a big part of this team and I will work hard to do my job until he gets back. And [Gustavsson] is working hard to get back to the team. I know he's anxious to start playing again."

Detroit will wrap up a six-game trip against the Blues, who play the fourth of a seven-game homestand in search of their sixth straight win. However, St. Louis remains in third place in the Central Division behind the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks. The fourth-place Winnipeg Jets trail the Blues by five points.

"We've won five in a row and made up no ground," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's the shock for me. You win five in a row and you just keep pace with what's above you.

"It's a tough League. It's a tough League because we've made up no ground on the people above us, and we've made up no ground on the wild-cards below us. They're all winning, too. The one dip we had (1-5-1), other teams were dipping at the same time so we didn't lose as much ground as we would have. Man, you've got to really play well to get in the playoffs in this conference because you're sitting at 57 points and there's a team breathing down your neck, a team like Winnipeg, they're breathing right down your neck. We've just got to keep going."

Even though Detroit moved to the Eastern Conference last season, it's still strange to think that Thursday will be their only visit to St. Louis.

A team the Blues had some intense rivalries with as part of the Central Division and old Norris Division, the Red Wings were accustomed to making three and sometimes four regular-season visits to St. Louis, and the Blues to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

But it's been relegated down to one visit for each team in each city.

Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall, although he misses those rivalry games with the Blues and Blackhawks, said it's been best for them to play in the East.

"I do and I don't. It goes both ways," Kronwall said. "They're always fun, intense games when we play them. You miss that part of it, but at the same time, you do like the part of being in your time zone more often.

"They're always fun games, very intense. The Blues are one of the hottest teams in the League right now. It should be a good matchup for us."

Blues forward Steve Ott (flu), who missed an optional practice Wednesday and the morning skate Thursday, will play, according to Hitchcock. Hitchcock said the flu bug has been going around the locker room and will monitor throughout the day if any necessary changes need to be made to the lineup.

Here are the projected lineups:

RED WINGS

Henrik Zetterberg - Pavel Datsyuk - Justin Abdelkader

Tomas Tatar - Riley Sheahan - Gustav Nyquist

Stephen Weiss - Darren Helm - Teemu Pulkkinen

Drew Miller - Joakim Andersson - Luke Glendening

Niklas Kronwall - Jonathan Ericsson

Kyle Quincey - Danny DeKeyser

Brendan Smith - Xavier Ouellet

Petr Mrazek

Tom McCollum

Scratched: Daniel Cleary, Brian Lashoff

Injured: Johan Franzen (upper body), Jimmy Howard (groin), Jakub Kindl (elbow), Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder), Tomas Jurco (back)

BLUES

Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrik Berglund - Paul Stastny - Joakim Lindstrom

Steve Ott - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson - Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman - Ian Cole

Brian Elliott

Jake Allen

Scratched: Martin Brodeur, Dmitrij Jaskin, Chris Butler

Injured: Chris Porter (ankle)

Status report: Lindstrom, a healthy scratch in six straight games and eight of nine, is expected to replace Jaskin in the lineup. ... Gustavsson was on the ice for the Red Wings on Thursday in full gear but didn't face any shots. He has not played since Nov. 5.

Who's hot: Schwartz has a five-game point streak (four goals, four assists) since returning from a broken foot. ... Steen is on a career-high seven-game point streak (five goals, eight assists). ... Datsyuk has 50 assists and 74 points in 64 games against the Blues. Zetterberg has 66 points in 59 games against St. Louis.

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