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Good goaltending problem

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Jeff Blashill and Lightning coach Jon Cooper are longtime friends so both had a little fun at the other's expense Tuesday. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- When Jimmy Howard starts tonight, it will mark his sixth game of the season.

Petr Mrazek has also played in six games, going 3-3-0 with a 2.67 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

Howard is currently 2-2-1 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.

"Basically no separation," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think both guys have been really, really good. If you look at the numbers, they've both been really good. Numbers don't tell everything but they're both real close and they've both done a real good job. I think they've both given us chances to win every night."

Howard is the 31-year-old veteran with 343 NHL games of experience under his belt.

Mrazek is 23 and has 46 NHL games of experience, as many as Howard has NHL playoff games.

Justin Abdelkader said there is not much difference playing in front of either one.

"Not much, no," Abdelkader said. "You want your goalie to make saves. Petr maybe plays the puck a little more for sure, but they're both playing great for us."

The schedule, with back-to-back games every weekend in October and twice in November, has given Blashill a chance to play both goaltenders.

"I think the friendly competition that we have going on, too, also helps," Howard said. "You know you got to go out there and play well or you might not be playing for a couple of games, so I think that’s been key for us the way we’ve been playing here early on."

LIGHTNING BACK AGAIN: The Wings have faced several opponents multiple times in the early going, including all three games against Carolina, a home-and-home with Ottawa and now Tampa Bay is back.

The Wings and Lightning met in Detroit on Oct. 13, a 3-1 Wings win.

"Obviously both teams know each other, both teams play really similar," Abdelkader said. "A lot of times there's not much that separates each team, there's not many chances either way so we just gotta be prepared to play a patient game."

The Wings limited the Lightning to 21 shots in that game, something they'd like to do again.

"The biggest key is probably playing in their zone," Howard said. "Their forwards are so deadly. They got four lines that can go. Pretty much just make them play in their own end."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said his team, currently second in the Atlantic Division with 14 points (in 13 games) is comparable to the Wings, currently sixth in the division with 11 points (in 11 games).

"We were here, what, two weeks ago? And we were both, I think, undefeated," Cooper said. "Now we've both got five losses each. So I don't know if either team has really taken strides since the last time we played each other and it's very similar in the sense that they probably played their best game in the last couple weeks on Saturday and we played ours on Sunday, so maybe both teams are kind of finding their stride a little bit. So one team's going to get to keep their streak, mini-streak going and one's not. So hopefully it's us."

Valtteri Filppula, who was drafted by the Wings and spent eight seasons in Detroit, is still getting used to playing against his former team.

"Still not the biggest fan," Filppula said. "Obviously with time it gets easier and easier. I feel like regular season games are starting to feel like a normal game. Last year's playoffs it was a little tough mentally but obviously as time goes by, the team changes a little bit, too. Now there's obviously a lot of familiar faces still but some new guys as well, so it makes it easier."

Filppula has one goal and two assists in nine games against the Wings.

ALL KIDDING ASIDE: The longstanding friendship between Blashill and Cooper has been well-documented so Blashill felt free to tweak his friend a bit after the morning skate.

After praising Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, Blashill said, "If he was better coached he’d probably be a better player. Nah, I’m just kidding on that."

So of course the Lightning reporters shared Blashill's joke with Cooper.

"Are you waiting for me to say something?" Cooper asked with a smile. "'Cause I'm mature. I don't have to answer to people that are below me."

KRONWALL STEPPING UP: Niklas Kronwall has not had the start to the season that he envisioned.

In the first 11 games, Kronwall has four assists, two coming in the last game in Ottawa Saturday, and is minus-2.

"My start to the year wasn’t great," Kronwall said. "I’ve got to get back to just playing hockey really."

Blashill split up Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, moving Kronwall to play with Brendan Smith and putting Ericsson with Danny DeKeyser.

"They’re two big guys, obviously Johnnie’s a big, strong guy," Blashill said. "They both skate pretty well and we think they can defend against a lot of teams’ best players. Now that gives Kronner a little … it frees him up a little bit more hopefully offensively, it frees him up from the minutes. We were getting into too many minutes, we felt, with Kronner."

Kronwall said the solution is plain to see.

"Simplify everything," Kronwall said. "Get back to the basics really."

One area Kronwall isn't going to win is bragging rights in horse racing.

Windsor-born owner Paul Reddam saw his horse Nyquist win the Breeders Cup Juvenile race.

Reddam has had many horses named after Wings, including one named after Kronwall.

Unfortunately, Kronwall the horse was not the equal of Kronwall the hockey player.

"I’ve heard about it," Kronwall said. "That’s just how it goes. I’m happy he’s doing well. He was brought up around horses so it’s good for him."

STONE DISAGREES WITH SUSPENSION: Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone, who was suspended by the league for two games because of his hit on Wings forward Landon Ferraro Saturday, spoke about the punishment to the Senators website and other Ottawa reporters.

"Obviously I don't agree with it," Stone said. "I thought that I did a well enough job explaining myself. It's tough just considering the history of my game, not the type of player I am, not the type of things I do so it's disappointing, obviously."

The NHL Department of Player Safety held a hearing Monday morning.

"Obviously my intention is to go in and take the puck, the team's down 2-0 in the game, I'm looking to make a play to get our team back in the game," Stone said. "It's just unfortunate that they see it as me being a dangerous player."

In the explanatory video, Stephane Quintal said they agreed that Stone's original intent was to go after the puck, but when Ferraro had already cleared the puck, Stone then went for the hit, which became "a reckless shoulder to the head."

Stone will begin his suspension tonight when the Senators play in Montreal.

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