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Notes: Mantha a healthy scratch against Blackhawks

Jimmy Howard makes his first start for the Wings since Dec. 20 in Tampa

by Dana Wakiji and Art Regner @Dwakiji and @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - Sometimes for young players, there has to be short-term pain for long-term gain.

That's the case for Anthony Mantha as he arrived at Joe Louis Arena Friday morning and found out that he will be a healthy scratch tonight.

"There's opportunities in coaching to have kind of teaching moments to make sure the trajectory of the player is upward as we're going to need him to be," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "He's going to be a great player in the league, he's going to be a great player for us still this year but tonight we're going to give him an opportunity to watch and then he'll get back in there and when he gets his opportunity, I assume he's going to be great."

While not excited about sitting, Mantha understands this is part of the development process.

"To be honest, I was mad about it when I got here this morning and saw the lineup," Mantha said. "But after I talked with Blash on the ice there, he just wants me to be a better player in general, and like I said, to compete harder and little details that are going to help my game out."

Fans may look at the statistics and see that Mantha is tied for second on the team with Henrik Zetterberg and Andreas Athanasiou in goals with 14 and second to Zetterberg in points with 33 and wonder why Mantha is out.

"My job is to make sure the upward trajectory is there and it's not going to be a straight line, it's going to be ups and downs, ups and downs, but the last four games or so it hasn't been in that same upward trajectory that it was before, so this gives us a chance to hit a reset button and get him back on in the right direction," Blashill said.

Mantha acknowledges that he has had better stretches than he's had of late.

"I know I could be better than the last few games I played," Mantha said. "I haven't really played the game I wanted, that's the most part. I think winning a few battles one-on-one and just being more intense in general, I think I can do that, and that's probably the message he's sending me right now."

Blashill has said on many occasions that one of the biggest challenges for young players is learning how to play at the top of their game on a nightly basis.

"When a young player goes through it, it just gives more and more respect to guys like Zetterberg that have done it for so long every single night," Blashill said. "You have to be on your 'A' game every night in this league. In other leagues you get to a point where you're just better than people, so even if you're not on your 'A' game you still have success. That never happens in this league. Even the very best players have to be on their 'A' game every night in order to really be successful, so it's just a learning process."

Mantha recognizes this, especially from playing with Zetterberg.

"The best players out there are (Sidney) Crosby, (Connor) McDavid and those guys, even Zetterberg's a great player again this year, he's shown it over the years," Mantha said. "They just play their game every single night. They're the same player (game) in and out and they just work so hard that they become impact players."

HOWARD GETS START AGAINST BLACKHAWKS: There may not be too many NHL goaltenders thrilled at facing the defending Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks, but Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard is not among them.

Howard, who was having a career year statistically until a knee injury sidelined him on Dec. 20 against the Lightning in Tampa, is slated to finally return to the Wings lineup on Friday against the Blackhawks.

"It's been a long grinding road, but I'm glad the day is finally here where I get to go back out there and play with the guys," Howard said after Friday's morning skate. "I am just excited to be back out there tonight, playing with the guys."

Blashill is happy to have Howard back and finally healthy.

"Obviously between practice and goalie work with (goaltending coach) Jeff Salajko and the work he's put in with Mike Kadar, our strength coach, and then going down to Grand Rapids, he's put himself in position to be successful," Blashill said. "Now he's got to come out tonight and execute. We need great goaltending. I said that throughout the year and certainly it's true now. We have two guys in Jimmy and Petr that I think can give us that. Petr I think has played excellent in the last little bit, even in some of these games where it hasn't gone our way. I think he's been excellent. And so we're going to need the same thing from Jimmy."

Howard seemed relieved that all his hard work rehabbing his knee has finally paid off. He is eager to get back between the pipes and face Chicago.

"It's pretty special, a lot of great games against them in the past, in the series, so it's exciting, but honestly I am just excited to get out there and play," Howard said.

There was never a period during his rehab where Howard doubted that he would return and despite a few setbacks along the way, he continued to work hard and remained upbeat.

When asked if the thought ever crossed his mind that had he remained healthy, the Wings may not have been on the outside of the playoff race, Howard quickly responded.

"No, you can't think like that. Injuries are part of the game, they happen," Howard said. "It's just unfortunate, for me, it was just remaining positive and trying to heal and get better."

CALLAHAN IN: Mitch Callahan has played in just one game since getting recalled from Grand Rapids but he'll get another chance tonight with Mantha sitting out.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity I have right now," Callahan said. "I'm excited to finally play in front of the home fans."

Callahan played just 6:24 in Calgary on March 3 as Gustav Nyquist was finishing up his six-game suspension so he knows ice time isn't guaranteed.

"Technically I'm the call-up guy, the 13th forward so whenever I do get a chance to go on the ice, I got to make an impact and try to prove I can play here," Callahan said. "I got to earn the minutes, they can't just be given to me. Tonight I'm going to try to earn every minute I have and see what I can do."

Blashill said he's told Callahan to just be himself.

"He does so many little things, he wins stick battles on the wall, something we haven't been good enough, when we do win the puck we need to make sure we do a good job on the wall, he does a great job of that," Blashill said. "He's got a great defensive mind, stick defense is great. He can give you a net-front presence, so beyond that I think he's been a guy who's hard to play against, not necessarily from a hitting standpoint, he's not a big hitter, but just he's a pain in the neck."

RETURN OF JURCO: The Wings will get to see old friend Tomas Jurco for the first time since they traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks.

"I talked to him since he left," Tomas Tatar said. "He said they do some stuff different. I hope he will find his game there. He's getting lots of chances, he's playing with Marian (Hossa), which is huge for him and hopefully he can score and establish himself."

The Wings drafted Jurco in the second round, 35th overall, in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Because of injuries, Jurco ended up playing with the Wings very quickly.

In the 2014-15 season, Jurco had three goals and 15 assists in 63 games.

But Jurco started this season on injured reserve after offseason back surgery and once healthy, he was never able to get a foothold in the lineup.

"It's not easy," Tatar said. "He just couldn't find a way here. It could happen to anybody. I'm just happy for him, he's somewhere else and he's getting a chance."

BLACKHAWKS FINAL VISIT TO THE JOE: One of the only downsides to moving to the Eastern Conference is losing the rivalry with the Blackhawks.

Now the teams face each other just twice a season.

This is the Blackhawks' last trip to Joe Louis Arena.

"There's lots that go in this final season at the Joe but certainly with these two organizations lots of history, huge rivalry, one I grew up watching," Blashill said. "It should be fun tonight., anytime we play Chicago it's a lot of fun. They've got really good players. It becomes lots of chances. We got to make sure we minimize our chances against."

The Blackhawks are in a battle with the Minnesota Wild for first place in the Western Conference, sitting just one point behind them.

The Blackhawks were shut out at home Thursday night, 1-0, by the Anaheim Ducks.

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