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Howard is shooting for Feb. 11 return

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Jimmy Howard is among league leaders in wins (16), goals-against average (2.11) and save percentage (.920). (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT Jimmy Howard skated Tuesday with his Red Wings teammates for the first time in 3 ½ weeks since suffering a torn groin muscle.

Afterward, the Wings’ No. 1 goaltender said he hopes to return to the lineup by Feb. 11.

“Yeah, probably, so hopefully Pittsburgh be back out there,” Howard said.

The Red Wings will finish a three-game road trip next Wednesday at Pittsburgh.

“That’s what we’re shooting for,” said Howard, who suffered a torn groin muscle Jan. 10 at Washington. “At first we had Phoenix circled but we thought (that) would probably be just rushing it a little too much and Pitt will allow me a couple more practices to push it.”

Howard, who is among the league leaders in wins (16), goals-against average (2.11) and save percentage (.920), was injured early in the game in Washington and exited the ice on a stretcher.

With the Capitals on a power play in the opening minute, the veteran goalie left his crease to settle a puck behind the net. Howard awkwardly lunged toward the goal in an attempt to make a save and then was unable to get up, requiring assistance from team trainers and medical personnel to get on the stretcher.

Again Tuesday, Howard mentioned how fortunate he feels that the injury wasn’t as bad as it looked at the time.

“I think I definitely escaped series injury,” he said. “When it happened I was really nervous, not being able to put any pressure on the leg or basically walk. I was on crutches for 24-48 hours. It responded well after a couple of days of being off of it. You know it’s progressed every single day, so it’s good. We haven’t had any setbacks, knock on wood. Hopefully we can just keep pushing it.”

The plan Tuesday was for Howard to begin working his way back into team practices without doing any significant damage to the healing process.

“I was out there before on my own with Jimmy (Bedard) and then came out and did all the goalie drills at the beginning and stayed out for about 30 minutes in practice,” said Howard, who had been skating on his own since last Monday. “It was good, didn’t really feel anything, so we’re just going to continue to push it.”

The original prognosis was that Howard would be sidelined for up to a month. While that seemed aggressive for a muscle tear, Howard remains optimistic about his recovery.

“I think we’re right on schedule of where we want to be,” he said. “We don’t want to push it too soon but we also don’t want to be out longer than I have to be, so we’re doing everything I think at the right pace.”

The plan is for Howard to increase his on-ice work load by skating more and facing a greater number of shots.

“Yeah, basically bag myself out there so legs and lungs are ready to go,” he said.

In the meantime, rookie Petr Mrazek has performed admirably, helping the Red Wings to a 6-2-0 record in Howard’s absence.

Coach Mike Babcock indicated Tuesday that Mrazek will start his ninth straight game Thursday when the Red Wings travel to Denver to face-off against the Colorado Avalanche.

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