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Bouncing Back

by Michelle Crechiolo / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROITJimmy Howard’s play this season has been so stellar at times that it’s easy to forget that he’s still a rookie.

However, Howard is still human, and every once in a while he will have a game he wishes he could take back – like Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at Joe Louis Arena.

After allowing four goals on 21 shots, Wings coach Mike Babcock replaced Howard with veteran Chris Osgood at 11:33 of the second period.

“It’s just one of those games,” Howard said. “You have them throughout the course of the season.”

Following Thursday’s morning practice, Howard was frustrated as he tried to explain the reasons behind his performance, shaking off the excuse of experiencing the regular-season grind, saying, “I shouldn’t be tired at all after having 10 days off.”

Howard is used to the daily demands of the pro game. In four seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Wings’ AHL affiliate, he had between 38 and 54 starts each year. Howard has played in 45 NHL games with 43 starts.

Despite his exasperation with his play on Wednesday, he was realistic about putting it behind him and looking ahead to Friday’s home game against the Nashville Predators, knowing that his position on the ice does not allow for mental breakdowns.

“The most important thing about being a goalie is how you bounce back from it,” Howard said. “I felt good (during practice). It’s sort of behind me, I woke up this morning and the sun was out.

“It was just one of those nights, they were better than us from the drop of the puck, they were better than us in all aspects of the game from goaltending on out. We just have to bounce back for tomorrow night.”

The normally solid Howard – he has a 2.34 goals-against average and .927 save percentage – has been pulled only one other time this season, after he allowed three quick goals in a 6-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Jan. 12. That performance came in his ninth straight start, and like Wednesday’s game, the whole team gave an overall poor performance.

After Thursday’s practice, Babcock announced that Howard would be getting the start on Friday. Howard’s teammates have faith that he’ll bounce back, acknowledging that the puck had to get past five skaters before reaching the rookie goalie.

“Last night there were a lot of different elements that didn’t go our way,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We didn’t put anything on Jimmy, really. We know that he’s going to bounce back, and we’re all going to bounce back.”

Babcock brought up the Wings’ last game against Nashville (Jan. 29), acknowledging the significance of Howard’s play. Despite being peppered with 48 shots, he made 46 saves, lifting the Wings to a 4-2 victory.

“Last time they played us, Howard was a star and they were better than we were,” Babcock said. “That’s unacceptable. We’re going to have to be way better here tomorrow.”

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