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Howard to start California trip

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Some mixed news on the Red Wings’ injury front from Monday afternoon’s practice at the Toyota Sports Arena.

First the good news: goalie Jimmy Howard will start against the Kings at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday. It will be his first start in more than a week since he suffered a strained groin against Chicago on March 4.

“It could have been a lot worse than it was,” said Howard, who missed the last three games. “The way it happened, and me not realizing how or when it happened, and it just gradually coming on we caught something before it got too bad.”

The Wings are 1-3-0 since Howard was lifted after the first period in the loss to the Blackhawks. But with 13 games left and trailing the St. Louis Blues by six-points for first-place in the Central Division, the Wings are feeling a sense of urgency in the waning weeks of the regular-season.

“I don’t think people realize, but the playoffs have pretty much started here with the last five or six teams that we’ve played and everyone jockeying for position in the standings whether they’re trying to get points to get into the playoffs,” Howard said. “If you’ve been paying close attention, the games have been very tight and goals are hard to come by.”

Howard led the NHL in wins before suffering a broken right index finger on Feb. 2, but he’s only played in 13 periods since then with a 1-2-1 record. Yet he still ranks third with 33 victories and has plenty of time to eclipse his career-high (37), which he's recorded in each of the past two campaigns.

While the litany of injures hasn’t been ideal for Detroit, coach Mike Babcock has been pleased with certain aspects of his team’s play, especially the power play, as his team prepares to face three teams that are fighting for their playoff lives.

“We’ve played hard enough, but we’ve made a couple of mistakes and we can’t make the mistakes,” Babcock said “We’re not scoring enough to make mistakes. We have to be better at penalty-kill than we were in our last game. I thought our power play was the best it’s been in the last two months, which was great to see. Our fore-check wasn’t very good last game, we had holes in it.

“Now we’re playing a real desperate L.A. Kings team, then a real desperate Anaheim team, and then a real desperate San Jose team, a fantastic trip for us to find out where we’re at.”

Howard added, “We need to get bodies back out there. We’ve been pretty depleted for a while now, but the guys have done a tremendous job to keep us within striking distance.”

Some other good news Monday involves the likely return this week of Pavel Datsyuk (knee) and Todd Bertuzzi (groin). While Babcock said he believes Bertuzzi will be ready for Wednesday’s game at Anaheim, Datsyuk won’t be too far behind.

“Pavel will tell me when Pavel is ready,” Babcock said. “He’s invited anytime.”

Datsyuk has missed nine straight games following arthroscopic knee surgery to clean out some loose cartilage, which had been causing some discomfort and pain.

He looked like the Datsyuk of old skating without limitations for nearly two hours, which including an hour’s worth of individual drills after practice under the supervision of video coach Keith McKittrick.

“Pav is Pav,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s been out forever.”

As for Bertuzzi, Monday’s practice was his first full workout with the team since his injury March 4. And while he won’t play Tuesday, a return on Wednesday is more like it.

 

“It felt all right, first real skate with the team,” Bertuzzi said. “Going to skate (Tuesday) and see how everything feels and make a decision then.”

Defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle) and Jakub Kindl (strained oblique muscle) were on the ice for a short period Monday, though Kindl actually made it through a few team drills before departing.

“I skated on the ice for about 20 minutes and felt good when I skating forward and as soon as I had to turn and go get the puck it hurt, so I’m not rushing it,” said Kindl, who like Howard was injured March 4. “I just have to be 100 percent. I haven’t got any (physical) contact so I’m afraid if I would do that I would probably tweak that again.”

Kindl had been experiencing some pain prior to the Chicago game, but something occurred early in the first period to aggravate the area, which caused enough pain that it even hurts to laugh, cough or sneeze.

“When I'm walking it's fine,” said Kindl, who likely won’t return on this trip. “But as soon as I put my stick in my hand or try to pass the puck, using my whole muscles, it hurts. So I just got to let it heal.

“I’ve had it for a while and was playing through it and the last game that I played I just got to the point that I felt like somebody stabbed me with a knife. Just couldn’t take it anymore. It was pretty painful, yeah, it hurt.”

The ankle is still to tender and sore for Lidstrom to put too much weight on it. The earliest he could return would be Saturday in San Jose, he said.

Follow Bill Roose on twitter | @RooseBill

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