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Notes: Larkin likely to return from injury against NJ

Jimmy Howard nearing rehabilitation games in Grand Rapids; Frans Nielsen gets day off

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - The Red Wings are likely getting one of their top goal scorers back.

Dylan Larkin, tied for the team lead in goals with Thomas Vanek with 12, missed the final two games before the All-Star break due to an upper-body injury.

"I feel good," Larkin said after Monday's practice. "I had a few days to get away and obviously with missing the last two games I feel ready to play tomorrow. I was cleared this morning. It's just a matter of being back in the lineup and getting back to playing."

Last season Larkin was the team's All-Star with 15 goals and 18 assists before the break.

This year he has 12 goals and six assists.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said what Larkin is going through was something he had anticipated.

"He went through a first half last year where everything went his way," Blashill said. "He played great, the puck went in the net, he didn't make many mistakes. It just really went right. The second half of last year and into this year, he's played very good at times but he's in the process of having to learn some things and most of these guys have had a chance to learn it either in their first year or in the minors or Europe. As a young kid it's hard.

"But I think he's been lots of nights real good and he's had pretty good production. I predicted there was going to be a great chance where there was going to be a year where his expectations went through the roof, it's hard to match those expectations. I don't think he's had a whole bunch different year than last year in totality. His points aren't quite as good, his goals are probably similar. I also think he's got 30 games to have a good year when it's all said and done."

Although Blashill has said that the Wings would eventually like to have Larkin at his natural position of center, for now he has him on the wing.

"I think he's better suited today on wing," Blashill said. "Time will tell if he's a better winger or center. I'll take responsibility for putting him at center as a 19-, 20-year-old. That's a hard thing to do in this league. I'm not saying other guys haven't done it, some have. But I think it's a real hard to thing to do so we put him back on wing. Doesn't mean he can't end up becoming a real good center."

HOWARD IMPROVING: Goaltender Jimmy Howard, out since Dec. 20 with a knee injury, is practicing with the team and close to going out for some rehabilitation games.

"I think with Jimmy taking part in practice, that's another step in the right direction," Blashill said. "You can do lots of stuff with (goaltending coach) Jeff Salajko but it's hard when guys aren't moving all over the place, you don't get maybe quite the same game-like situations, so it was good for him to practice."

In 17 games this season, Howard is 5-7-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.

But it's not easy to just jump back in after being out for so long.

"First 10 minutes it was kind of rough on the lungs, but after that things started to settle down," Howard said. "I feel good. I feel excited to be back out there with the guys and look forward to getting down to GR and playing. I'm not really sure when that's going to happen just yet, but right now it feels good just to be back out there."

Blashill said they haven't settled on a definite plan yet as they want to see how Howard feels after practicing.

But at some point Howard will go play for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

"I'm going to play two down there we just don't know which ones," Howard said. "I had some really good skates leading up to the break. I skated once over the break. I felt good there. No issues with the knee whatsoever now it's just to get out there and practice really hard with the guys and see how it responds there and if it responds good through the week I'll head down there."

Howard believes he can get back to the level of play he was at before he was injured.

"I've worked hard to get back," Howard said. "The road taken was a little bit longer than expected. The knee has responded every stage of the process. I feel confident I can get back out there and really playing the way I was."

ALL-STAR DAY OFF: Frans Nielsen, who represented the Wings at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles over the weekend, was given Monday off.

Blashill said Nielsen would be available to play Tuesday.

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