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Confident Howard continues to shine

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard made 31 saves in his fourth shutout of the season when the Red Wings defeated the Blues 3-0. (Photo by Dave Reginek)
DETROIT – There was a distinctive playoff atmosphere inside Joe Louis Arena as the Red Wings rang in the new year Saturday night, hosting their annual New Year’s Eve game.

With the Wings and the St. Louis Blues both sporting 47-points in the Western Conference standings, and two of the league’s hottest goalies – in Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and the Blues’ Brian Elliott – squaring off, the sold-out crowd was definitely in for a special treat before the opening period.

Howard won the goaltending battle and the Wings collected an important two-points in the standings with a hard-fought 3-0 victory over their Central Division rivals.

“It definitely feels good and we played a good, complete game tonight, we did a great job in all aspects of the game and we were able to open up the game in the second period, which I think really helped our chances,” said, Howard, who earned his fourth shutout of the season, making 31 saves.

Each of the three previous games between the Wings and Blues were decided by one-goal this season. But Saturday, the Wings made sure that streak would end – scoring three unanswered goals in the second period – while their home winning streak would remain intact, collecting a 12th straight victory at home.

“It’s been a battle, all four games have been back and forth,” said Howard, of the Blues. “Now we have to figure out a way to win one at their building, so we’ve won both here and we have to take it on the road.”

In the Wings’ home streak, Howard has played in all 12 wins, while compiling a 1.34 goals-against average, a .946 save percentage and three shutouts dating back to Nov. 5.

For the second time this week, the Blues brought their typically physical brand of play with them to The Joe. But the Wings – again – stood up to the challenge, out-hitting St. Louis in the first period. The Wings defeated the Blues, 3-2, Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Howard made several quality saves, particularly in the first when the game was still up for grabs. The Wings’ goalie made a pivotal diving stop on Blues forward Matt D’Agostini, who fired a shot near the right post.

The stop certainly set an early tone for the Wings and their goalie.

“Just not giving up on the play and just staying with it and sticking with it, and trying to get a body part on it,” said Howard, of his stop on D’Agostini. “It definitely gives you a boost of adrenaline and you just build off of it.”

Howard also made premium stops on Kevin Shattenkirk’s point shot through traffic, and another close-range opportunity by Alex Pietrangelo.

“I thought Howie was good,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought our team was good. Howie made a huge save in the first period, actually two of them, and that allows you to get going. Obviously our team played pretty well in the second, took the game over. We gave Howie a little too much action for my liking in the third. I didn't think we needed to do that but he was up to the task.”

The Blues went on the offensive in the third, but again, Howard was stellar, especially when he stopped consecutive efforts from Jason Arnett’s deflection and Ian Cole’s rebound chance with 8:55 left in regulation.

Howard now has a league-leading 23 wins, and it’s even more gratifying when it comes against an opposing goalie, who has enjoying an equally solid first-half of the season.

“Every night you want to get up and play your best against the goalie at the other end,” Howard said. “I think it’s more a long the lines that we need the points. We can’t sit back and rest on anything. We need to continue to get points.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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