DETROIT – After some careful consideration, coach Mike Babcock has decided to start Jonas Gustavsson in net Wednesday when the Red Wings host Atlantic Division rival Boston in the team’s annual Thanksgiving Eve game at Joe Louis Arena.
It will be Gustavsson’s second start and third in the last four games for Detroit.
In his second season with the Wings, Gustavsson has played superbly. His five wins equals starter Jimmy Howard, who is currently riding a career-long seven game winless streak.
Meanwhile, Gustavsson, who was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week on Oct. 21, has cruised to a 5-0-1 record with a 2.35 goals-against average. His .926 save percentage ranks No. 14 among league goaltenders, who have seven or more starts this season.
“You take everything into account,” Babcock said. “He’s got points in every game he’s played in this year. He’s missed out on one in a possible whatever he’s played. He gives us a chance. It’s important that we win games and it’s important that we get Howie feeling good about himself. To me the whole key is confidence for Howie and feeling good about himself and then we can continue to roll on.”
Howard is aware of his struggles. He hasn’t consecutively held opponents to two or fewer goals since the start of the season in wins over Buffalo (2-1) and at Carolina (3-2).
“I thought the season started off good, it’s just been the month of November that hasn’t been very kind,” Howard said. “It’s just something I have to work through. It’s just something I have to deal with.”
This month, Howard has posted a 1-3-4 record with a 3.02 GAA and .897 save percentage.
It’s hasn’t been the best of starts this season for the Red Wings (11-7-7), who snapped a seven-game winless streak last week. Fortunately, Gustavsson has provided a surprising lift to the Wings by earning a few big wins, particularly at Colorado when the Wings stopped the Avs’ six-game winning streak, and last week against Carolina, which ended the Wings' losing skid.
The biggest difference in Gustavsson has been his health. Aside from a sore groin at the start of the season, he’s been relatively healthy, which he wasn’t a season ago.
“He’s a guy who has made some huge saves for us,” Babock said. “When he keeps the puck from going underneath him he’s been great. That’s the biggest challenge I see, but he’s done a good job, so I don’t think you can ask more from your second goaltender than we’ve got this year.”
In 14 games since joining the Red Wings as a free agent signing prior to last year’s lockout-shortened season, Gustavsson has compiled a 7-2-2 record with a 2.61 GAA and .908 save percentage.
“I try to live in the moment and right now the team has been playing good for me and we’ve been winning some games,” Gustavsson said. “We had a tough stretch, but now it feels like we’re on the right track and hopefully we can build on that.”
On Wednesday, Gustavsson will face the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins, whom he defeated in a 28-save performance earlier this season.
“They’re a good team, but it’s also a fun challenge,” Gustavsson said. “That’s why you play, you want to compete and try competing against the best and they’re a solid team. So it’s going to be a good challenge for me and for our group. It’s a good test to see where we’re at.”
While the Wings have played well in front of their backup, Babcock trusts that with some work with goaltending coach Jim Bedard, Howard will be back to his solid self.
“Let’s be clear about this, we’re going as far as Howie takes us,” Babcock said. “We’ve got an elite goalie who it hasn’t gone as good. … We’ll give him a breather to work with Jimmy B. We started that before. It was good that Gus got us a win so we could go back to him. (Howard) gets a little breather and he’ll be right back in the net right after that and we’ll go from there.”
BERT’S BACK IS FINE: Todd Bertuzzi
Right Wing - DET
Goals: 5 | Assists: 4 | Pts: 9
Shots: 43 | +/-: -6
will miss a third straight game when he sits out Wednesday with an upper body injury, but he insists it’s not his back.
The Red Wings’ power forward sustained the undisclosed injury minutes after Danny DeKeyser suffered a separated shoulder that will keep the rookie defenseman out of the lineup for up to six weeks.
Each was injured in the first period against Nashville on Nov. 19. With 6:17 left in the opening frame, Bertuzzi was hit by Shea Weber in the corner to the left of the Predators’ net.
“I was on a bad angle and went to make a pass and Weber caught me on a tough angle and it kept flaring up from there and getting worse and worse each game,” Bertuzzi said. “That’s why it’s frustrating not playing. I’ve spent enough time in this room in civilian clothes that it’s not fun. But if I can’t go out there and contribute and play the way I need to play I’m basically just a sitting pylon out there. Might as well get it healthy now and hopefully in the next little while it’ll settle down and I can get back out there and play.”
Bertuzzi is having a solid season, producing five goals and nine points in 23 games, and his back hasn't caused him any problems. Last season, debilitating pain in his lower back held him out for most of shortened campaign.
Bertuzzi finished the game against Nashville and also played two nights later against Carolina. However, the injury is preventing the veteran from playing the way he’s accustom.
“It’s probably a little bit more than day to day, but obviously I hate missing games and I don’t want to be out,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve been playing with it for about a week and a half now so I couldn’t do it anymore.”
DATSYUK OUT: Pavel Datsyuk will miss his second straight game after he took a hit to the head in Saturday’s loss to Ottawa.
The team hasn’t made an official determination on the All-Star center’s injury, though it’s likely he has a possible concussion after he was elbowed in the jaw by Senators defenseman Jared Cowen.
“He’ll go through the process,” Babcock said. “He’s not playing tomorrow and then we’ll talk to him after that. I think he had a light (bike) ride or something today. I don’t remember exactly what all the protocol is, but we’ll go through it and see what happens.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose