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Howard is ready to reclaim starting job

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
With last season behind him, Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard is ready to compete for the starting job in goal. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROITJimmy Howard is ready to reclaim what he lost.

But to do so, the veteran goalie knows he must beat out Petr Mrazek, the up-and-coming young star, who took the Red Wings’ starting role in the playoff last spring.

“It’s going to be an open battle. The way it should be,” Howard said Tuesday afternoon. “It wasn’t the way I pictured last year ending, but you know it’s the way it happened and everyone goes through something like that through the course of their career. … You have to cross that hurdle.”

Howard knows that the youngster won’t back down in training camp or during the preseason. However, Howard’s approach is no different than past years. He’s prepared himself throughout the long summer break, though, one thing the Wings’ veteran will not do is dwell on last season’s disappointments.

“The past is the past. I don’t live in the past,” he said. “That happened. I learned from it. Just getting ready for this year now.”

Howard was off to a spectacular 2014-15 season, posting a 16-7-7 record, which earned him his second NHL All-Star game. But that was all before a severe groin injury placed him on long-term injured reserve in early January.

But after team doctors deemed him ready to return to action in mid-February, the 31-year-old Howard never regained the consistency that he enjoyed during the season’s first three months. He finished with a 23-13-11 mark and a 2.44 goals-against average.

“Everything was going great until the point of the injury,” Howard said. “Then it was just tough to get back out there and continue to play the way I was playing before.”

Fortunately for the Wings, Mrazek was ready to step into the spotlight. The 23-year-old played well enough to help the Red Wings reach the postseason for a remarkable 24th consecutive season. He ended the NHL regular season with 16-9-2 record, a 2.38 GAA and three shutouts.

Toward the end of the season, Mrazek performed well enough to win the confidence of then-head coach Mike Babcock, who started the young goaltender in all seven games of the first-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Now, with Jeff Blashill, he himself a former collegiate goalie, taking over the team’s coaching reigns, Howard feels like he can regain what was once his – the No. 1 starting role on this team.

Howard, who stayed in the Detroit area over the summer to work out at 2SP Sports Performance in Madison Heights, has had some discussions with Blashill. The two even went to lunch where Blashill offered some feedback to his goalie.

“Just go out there and work hard and seize the opportunity,” said Howard when asked what his new coach told him. “It’s there for the taking and just go back out there and reclaim your spot.”

Howard said he anticipates a short, but smooth transition period as the players get used to working with Blashill after 10 successful seasons with Babcock.

“Mike did a great job in his tenure here,” Howard said. “You know, winning the Stanley Cup, getting to the conference finals several times, and I think for both sides, I think Mike was ready for a new challenge, and having a fresh voice in here will help.

“It’s going to take some getting used to. They’re both very similar, but different at the same time. With Mike it was a lot of A conversations, there wasn’t really A-B. So, it was weird actually sitting down and actually having a discussion with Blash. It was great at the same time to bounce things off him. … It’s going to be great. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

NOTEBOOK: Howard said it’s been great to see Johan Franzen skating with the guys for the past few weeks. The Red Wings’ veteran forward is still recovering from a concussion that he sustained last January in Edmonton..

“It’s a little weird, used to having the grumpy Mule around,” Howard said, laughing “But it’s nice to have Mule back in the dressing room, and to see the smile on his face and how much fun he’s having on the ice. It’s great to see because that had to be tough last year with the concussion and what he went through mentally.”

Howard also weighed in on proud new papa Henrik Zetterberg, who recently joined the ranks of fatherhood last month with the birth of his first son.

“A great step for Z. It’s awesome to see,” Howard said. “We’ve had a little bit of a baby boom here over the last couple of years, and just adding one more to the bunch.”

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