Jimmy Howard hasn't had much of a chance to prove himself in the NHL. Helping the Detroit Red Wings avoid their longest losing streak in more than 17 years could go a long way toward solidifying his place in the league.
Howard is expected to make his first start in more than two years as the Red Wings look to end a five-game skid Sunday afternoon when they visit the red-hot Dallas Stars.
Although they still own the league's best record by a wide margin, the Red Wings (41-14-5) haven't looked very good in losing their last five games. They have allowed three goals or more in each contest and haven't scored an even-strength goal in their last three games.
"We're not generating any offense. We're not generating any chances," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We're not playing very well 5-on-5. It's going to be tough for us now, we're going to Dallas and Colorado, so we've got to find a way to get it done."
Friday's 5-1 home loss to Columbus was Detroit's worst performance of the season, having trailed 3-0 after the first period and seeing Chris Osgood get pulled for the second straight start.
"We were at our worst tonight, for sure," coach Mike Babcock said. "We didn't have any opportunity to win this game from the start."
Osgood, who made his third straight start because Dominik Hasek is sidelined with a hip flexor, allowed four goals on 13 shots before he was replaced by Howard in the second period.
With Hasek not ready to return and Osgood struggling, Babcock will give Howard his first start of the season against Pacific Division-leading Dallas (36-21-5), which has won eight of nine.
Howard has played well in relief the last two games, stopping 27 of 29 shots. This will be his first start since Dec. 13, 2005, when he gave up three goals on 16 shots against Atlanta before he was relieved by Osgood in the second period.
Detroit likely will be without two of its top defensemen again Sunday. Brian Rafalski (groin) and Niklas Kronwall (clavicle) both made the trip to Dallas, but neither is expected to play.
The Red Wings, who haven't lost six in a row since a seven-game skid from Jan. 14-30, 1991, have outscored the Stars 7-1 in winning both meetings this season. Detroit is 6-0-1 in its last seven matchups with Dallas.
The Stars rebounded from their only loss this month with a 4-2 victory Friday at Anaheim to snap the Ducks' win streak at five.
Defenseman Stephane Robidas scored twice and Marty Turco made 20 saves for his 200th win as Dallas extended its lead in the Pacific to six points over Anaheim.
"I think we worked hard. Marty is playing really well," Robidas said. "It's a team game and that's why we have been winning and successful - everyone is chipping in, everyone is doing a little more. That's the key to our success."
Turco is 6-1-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average in his last seven starts overall, but he has never fared well against Detroit. In 16 starts versus the Red Wings, Turco is 1-9-0 with five ties and a 2.98 GAA.
The recent return of right wing Jere Lehtinen has provided Dallas with a boost. Lehtinen, who missed more than two months following sports hernia surgery, has two goals and five assists in eight games since rejoining the lineup.