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Another loss comes at bad time for Wings

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Goalie Jimmy Howard surrendered three goals on 10 shots in the first period Thursday at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Mike Babcock is in the winning business. So are the Red Wings, who’ve made a habit of it for more than two decades.

But winning has eluded the Wings lately, which comes at the absolute worst possible time of the season.

The Wings must find a quick solution or deal with the consequences of perhaps not reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs for a 24th consecutive season.

On Thursday, starting goalie Jimmy Howard was pulled after allowing three goals on 10 shots and the Wings suffered another demoralizing loss, this time a 6-4 setback to the San Jose Sharks at Joe Louis Arena.

Since they last won back-to-back games three weeks ago, Detroit has muddled along with just three wins in their past 11 games while losing ground in the Atlantic Division playoff race. Back on March 4, following a 2-1 overtime win over the New York Rangers, the Wings led Boston and Ottawa by 10 and 16 points, respectively, in the division.

After Thursday’s loss, the Wings’ lead for third place has dwindled to five points over the Bruins and Senators, each of whom visit The Joe next week.

“We know the situation that we’re in,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We know about the standings, but we’re used to this. The last 2-3 years we’ve been playing ourselves into the postseason. We’ve been having a lot of pressure on us at the end of the year. So it’s nothing new for us. I think we’ve just got to embrace that and keep playing good hockey and we will be fine.”

Howard was lifted after the Sharks built a 3-2 lead, and Petr Mrazek entered the game at the start of the second period. The rookie goalie was saddled with the loss after allowing two goals on 19 shots.

Babcock has always said that he will play the guys that he feels gives his club the best chance to win, and right now one of those players is Mrazek.

“Pete Mrzek’s got to get himself ready to go,” Babcock said. “Give Pete an opportunity here because we need that area fixed. It’s amazing when you get a little confidence in that area we can all settle down and get playing better. We scored tons of goals in the last couple of games but like I said it’s like chasing the game. You can’t play like that, you got to play right. So we’re going to get regrouped tomorrow and I guarantee we’ll be ready to play.”

Mrazek will start Saturday when the Wings host Tampa Bay. The Lightning is 3-0-0 against the Wings this season.

Howard hasn’t been himself since he suffered a small tear in a groin muscle more than two months ago. On Thursday, he looked very uncomfortable.

“I agree with you,” Babcock said. “It’s one of those things. I haven’t talked to him, I’ll talk to him tomorrow, but obviously it didn’t go the way he wanted. We gave him an opportunity to bounce back, he didn’t do that. We’ll give Pete Mrazek an opportunity here. As a group of coaches and a group of players we just got to bunker in here tomorrow and have a good conversation, have a good practice and get ready to play. Like I said we’ll be back ready to go.”

Since his return, Howard has produced a 6-5-3 record with a 3.64 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. Before the injury he was having an All Star-caliber year with a 15-7-7 mark, a 2.11 GAA and .920 save percentage.

Luck wasn’t on Howard’s side in the 20 minutes of action as two goals went in off Red Wings players, including one that went in off the back of the Wings’ goalie.

San Jose scored in the first 19 seconds of the game, taking advantage of Jonathan Ericsson’s turnover deep in the Wings’ end. Rookie center Melker Karlsson, the recipient of the turnover, pushed a pass to the point where defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic lobed a fluttering shot through traffic that beat Howard.

Matt Nieto put the Sharks up 2-0 when his shot from close range pinballed off the post then off the back of Howard’s right arm at 9:14 of the opening period.

While many will criticize the goalie for the Wings’ struggles, the captain said everyone needs to shoulder some blame.

“We’re not helping our goalies,” Zetterberg said. “We’re not boxing out in front of him. We’re having sticks that are tipping pucks. This is not on Howie and Petr, this is on all the guys. We have to be better. We have to play better defense. We will get our chances offensively and we will score goals but we have to tighten it up.”

Faster than the Sharks built a two-goal lead in the first half of the period, the Red Wings tied the score in the last half on goals by Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar in a span of one minute and 40 seconds.

Jurco cut the Sharks lead in half when he scored his first in 40 games.

“Obviously it’s nice to score,” Jurco said. “It’s important time to win. Obviously it’s going to give me more energy. It’s been awhile since I scored, but like I said, wins are more important now.”

Tatar’s equalizer in the first came on a redirection from Danny DeKeyser’s shot at the blue line.

But less than five minutes later the Sharks regained the lead, 3-2, when Chris Tierney’s shot from behind the net ricocheted off Joakim Andersson’s skate in front and into the net.

Following a scoreless second period, in which Mrazek stopped all seven shots that he faced, the Sharks added three goals, including a late empty netter.

Detroit got third-period goals by Stephen Weiss and Justin Abdelkader, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Sharks.

Despite giving up two goals in the third, Mrazek was solid and gave the Wings a chance. His spectacular glove save while sliding to his left on Tomas Hertl’s shot prevented the Sharks from re-establishing a late two-goal cushion.

“I didn’t like the second goal. Was that the fifth goal?” Babcock said. “When you’ve given up as many as we have it’s hard to remember. … But he’ll get the start next game and we need him to bunker down and play the way he’s capable of playing. Same goes for everyone else.

“We’re all in this together. We took our lumps here today and last game. We’ve given up a lot of goals at home. That’s not how we want to play. That’s not Red Wing-like. We’ll come in here tomorrow and get it fixed.”

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