LOS ANGELES – There was a point in the season when the Red Wings picked up at least a point in seven straight games (4-0-3) started by Jimmy Howard.
Since then, the veteran goalie has been pulled twice for poor performance, opening the door for his understudy, Petr Mrazek to claim stake as the team’s No. 1 goalie.
Tonight, Howard has an opportunity to regain some self-confidence in his game, while rebuilding the trust of coaches and teammates, when he starts against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.
Since Mrazek has played in 10 straight games, including eight starts, the plan along was to start Howard on the second night of the back to back in Southern California. Mrazek made 30 saves in Sunday’s 2-1 win at Anaheim.
The Wings are winding down a six-game road trip where they have won the first four games. Howard just wants to do his part in keeping the streak intact.
“You want to go out there and continue to get points for the guys,” said Howard, who has a 7-5-4 record and 2.66 goals-against average this season. “They’ve been doing such a great job night in and night out that you want to pick right off where the last guy did.”
For nearly two weeks since his last start, Howard has worked hard with goaltending coach Jim Bedard to prepare for the second half of the season, beginning tonight against the Kings.
“Just working hard every single day, working with Jimmy,” Howard said. “Not splitting the atom or anything or re-inventing the wheel, just continuing to work on basics and continue to work hard and bring a positive attitude.”
Howard said that reclaiming the top of the crease will be key to his success, particularly against the Kings’ big forwards.
“Just standing there, letting the play come me,” he said. “It’s easier to do in practice where it’s so structured, so hopefully the hard work is gonna transition over into tonight.
“They’re big throughout their lineup. They’ve been playing really great here at home, so I think it’s gonna be a tight game and we just gotta find a way to come out on top.”
In his last two starts, Howard was lifted after allowing four goals on 14 shots at Winnipeg (Dec. 29) and three goals on six shots against New Jersey (Dec. 22).
As a former college goaltender, Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he hopes Howard can find his comfort level early in the game.
“I’ve been in lots of games where I didn’t feel great early and maybe the puck hit me and maybe it hit a few posts and the next thing you know you get in a groove,” Blashill said. “I’ve been in games where I felt great and you give up some big-time chances and the game goes away from you, so we’re hoping he gets some stops early and the puck goes his way early and he can get into a groove. The hardest part is going through stretches where you haven’t played but he’s a great pro and we have great belief in him.”
Howard has gone through struggles in the past, but he’s always found a way to play through it.
“I seem to come out on top more times than not, so as long as I take care of myself and continue to work hard and be positive and not be a Debbie Downer. It’s easy for some guys to do in situations like these and just continue to be a great teammate and push myself and I’m gonna play well.”
ROAD WARRIORS: The Red Wings will look to extend their current winning streak to five straight – all on the road – when they face-off against the Pacific Division-leading Kings.
It’s been nearly seven years since the Wings last won five straight games in regulation. They did so from Feb. 2-14, winning six straight, the last five – against Phoenix, Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Minnesota – in regulation.
But the last time the Wings won four straight games, all on the road, came during the 2007-08 season when they posted road victories at Minnesota, St. Louis, Colorado and Phoenix. They posted a six-game win streak, all on the road, in 2001-02, though two of the wins were claimed in overtime.