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Back-to-back Howard

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin credits veteran teammates like Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader for helping him succeed this season. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

TORONTO -- Both Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek were at Toronto's Air Canada Centre this morning but only one skated.

That was Petr Mrazek, who said he was backing up Howard for tonight's game against the Maple Leafs.

Howard will start in back-to-back games for the first time this season after making 20 of 22 saves in the 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild Friday night at home.

It will mark the first time this season that a Wings goaltender has played in back-to-back games that involved travel.

Mrazek started both home games Saturday afternoon, March 12, against the New York Rangers, and then Sunday night, March 13, against the Maple Leafs.

But it's been a tough go for Mrazek, who was pulled in the first period of Tuesday night's game in Montreal, the fifth time in 14 games he's been taken out early.

Mrazek worked hard in the optional morning skate as Dylan Larkin, Luke Glendening, Teemu Pulkkinen, Tomas Jurco, Brendan Smith and Alexey Marchenko joined him on the ice.

"Just work hard and get back to the game, stop as many pucks as I can," Mrazek said. "I work a couple good practices with Jimmy B (goaltending coach Jim Bedard) yesterday and today. I'm feeling pretty good."

Although Mrazek has not been told whether he will start another game with just three remaining after tonight, he is not concerned.

"Everybody's different but how I said before, the season's long, I played 53 games this year so I know how to be ready and I know how to win," Mrazek said.

Mrazek has played in a career-high 53 regular-season games so far, surpassing the 52 games he played in 2010-11 with the Ottawa 67's.

That season he played in a total of 56 games, counting the playoffs.

In 2011-12, Mrazek played in 67 total games.

In 2012-13, the year the Grand Rapids Griffins won the Calder Cup, Mrazek played 71 games, two regular-season games with the Wings, 42 regular-season games with the Griffins, three regular-season games with the Toledo Walleye and 24 playoff games with the Griffins.

In 2013-14, Mrazek played in 51 total games, nine regular-season games with the Wings, 32 regular-season games with the Griffins and 10 playoff games with the Griffins.

Last season, Mrazek played in 49 total games, 29 regular-season games with the Wings, 13 regular-season games with the Griffins and seven playoff games with the Wings.

It would be understandable if there was some fatigue for the young goaltender but he says there isn't.

"I would say maybe because there's so many games, the travel's hard and the season's long but I wouldn't say it's mentally or physically," Mrazek said. "I'm feeling great and ready to go."

As for Howard, in nine career games against the Maple Leafs, he is 4-2-2 with a 1.91 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.

Toronto's Garret Sparks will make his first career start against Detroit.

Sparks is 6-6-1 with a 2.78 goals-against average and .898 save percentage in 14 games this season.

LARKIN AT OPTIONAL: Despite playing 15:38 Friday night against the Wild, Larkin decided to take part in the optional morning skate.

"Just trying to get a feel for the puck and the ice," Larkin said. "We've had plenty of back-to-backs where I've taken a nap and I haven't felt great in the game that night. So just trying to get out here, have some fun and sweat a little bit."

Back-to-back games can be a grind, even for 19-year-olds.

"It's tough, especially late in the year," Larkin said. "I've tried a bunch of things, whether it's staying away from the rink or coming here and skating, but I usually feel the best when I come and skate . Mentally, you just kind of go through the same routine that I would do if we had a rest."

Although Larkin is a Michigan native, his father, Kevin, is a Toronto native so they have plenty of relatives and friends who will attend the game.

"I think 25-30 family and friends," Larkin said. "Luckily I didn't have to buy all those tickets so I'll just see them after the game. I just told people that they could come say hi after. The tickets are a little expensive in Toronto."

Larkin scored his 23rd goal Friday night, tying him for second among rookies with his former US National Development Team teammate, Jack Eichel of Buffalo.

Chicago's Artemi Panarin leads all rookies with 27 goals, two scored Friday night.

Larkin credits some of his success to playing with veteran players like captain Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader, his current line mates.

"It's been really big for me," Larkin said. "I think it's one of the major reasons I've had success this year. I was able to learn from those guys early and now I think we're line mates so we're talking and sharing ideas. I'm still learning from them but hopefully I can help them out a little bit too. It's been great this year and I think it's the reason why I'm still around and had a great season so far."

STREAK TALK: Former Wings coach and current Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was asked after their morning skate about the Wings trying to make the playoffs for the 25th consecutive season.

"The pride is immense obviously," Babcock said. "The pressure, that means you have a chance. We're not feeling much playoff pressure right now here. That means you don't have a chance. If you have a chance, that's all you can ask. Every year, really good teams, there's always some tough times. Everyone thinks you win 10-1 every night. That's not the way, you win 2-1 a whole bunch of times and some nights you don't have it and still find a way to win. That's what good teams do over and over again."

Babcock was part of the streak for 10 seasons while Larkin just watched as a fan.

Yet Larkin said the streak is important to him although it's not the main focus.

"I think it's a little bit more about getting in the playoffs as a team, as a group," Larkin said. "We want to be a part of this. Personally I want to be a part of this streak. But I think once we get in, I think it's more than just being around for a round or two, we want to go pretty far. It's playing the right way every game, being prepared for that."

ABDELKADER NEEDS TWO: With two more goals this season, Justin Abdelkader has a chance to join a select group of players.

The veteran forward currently has 201 hits and 18 goals and is one of seven players with 180 or more hits and 18 or more goals.

Only 43 players have achieved 200 hits and 20 goals since the NHL started keeping track of hits in 2005-06.

St. Louis' David Backes (239 hits and 20 goals), Columbus' Boone Jenner (205 hits, 29 goals) and Washington's Alex Ovechkin (216 hits, 45 goals) have already reached that mark this season.

Toronto's Leo Komarov needs one goal to join the club as he already has 281 hits with 19 goals but he is out with a lower-body injury.

Last season, Backes, Washington's Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer, and Winnipeg's Andrew Ladd all reached those numbers.

DATSYUK MILESTONE: Tonight's game will be the 950th of Pavel Datsyuk's career.

BACK-TO-BACK WOES: The Wings are playing in their second to last set of back-to-back games.

They're looking to snap out of their second-game woes, having gone 0-8-2 in their last 10 in the second game of back-to-back contests.

The last time the Wings won in the second game was a 4-3 overtime victory Nov. 21 in St. Louis.

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