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Howard's opportunity

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard has posted stellar career numbers against the Blue Jackets. The Red Wings' veteran has an 11-5-3 record with a 1.90 goals-against average vs. Columbus. (Photo by Getty Images)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jimmy Howard is getting another opportunity.

Howard will start in goal in Columbus Tuesday night.

"I think Jimmy’s proven through numerous different occasions in his career that he is an elite goalie in this league," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think we have the luxury of having two guys that I have tons of confidence in."

Howard came on in relief of Petr Mrazek at 6:19 of the first period Sunday in Chicago after Mrazek allowed two goals on the first five shots.

Howard allowed two goals on 21 shots, one on the power play.

Mrazek gave up five goals to the Blackhawks on 33 shots last Wednesday in Detroit.

"I think you’re going to go through times in the year where you’re playing great and you’re going to go through times of the year where the puck’s going in," said Blashill, a former goaltender. "Sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes it’s situational. I understand that as well as anybody. Jimmy has played very well. We’re going to put him in and hopefully get a win tomorrow night against Columbus. In terms of Petr, I think Petr is going to be a big factor for us moving forward the rest of the year."

Howard has excellent numbers against the Blue Jackets in his career.

In 20 career starts, Howard is 11-5-3 with a 1.90 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, including three shutouts.

Howard didn't know his career statistics against Columbus.

"It doesn’t matter," Howard said. "I can’t tell you what my record is against these guys. The only thing I’m concentrating on is trying to get two points for the guys tomorrow night."

Mrazek had a stellar January in which he went 7-1-1 with a 1.32 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.

In February, Mrazek was 6-2-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

In March, Mrazek is 0-2 with a 6.33 goals-against average and .816 save percentage, not up to his usual standards.

But Blashill is not worried, especially considering both of those March games came against the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks.

"Petr’s proven time and again he’s got the skill set to be an elite goalie in this league," Blashill said. "He still has an elite save percentage in this league. He’s got to make sure he puts a lot of work in to make sure his game is where he wants it to be. I think it’s great he’s got (goaltending coach) Jimmy Bedard and (Griffins goaltending development coach) Jeff Salajko here today. He’s got a little relationship with Jeff as well. It allows him to get a little extra work in."

Howard understands what it's like to struggle so he can offer some advice to Mrazek.

"Just relax, play," Howard said. "Just don’t think about anything when you’re out there, just go out there and do what got you to the NHL. There’s a reason why we’re both in the NHL, that’s because we’re both good goalies and we’ve got good work ethic and we’re competitive. So you go back to trying to have fun."

As for Howard, in his last three games, he's had a .946 save percentage, playing more at the level he expects of himself.

"It took a little while to figure out the new role and just how to handle everything, how to just play once called upon," Howard said. "So once I seemed to figure it out, everything sort of fell into place."

Howard is keeping a close eye on the standings, knowing that the Wings are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference.

"I know we have Philly coming up our rear ends right now, so we’ve got to get points," Howard said. "That’s the only thing that matters right now is to have the desperation of going out every night and playing because the playoffs are on the line. We’ve got to start stringing some Ws here together."

The Philadelphia Flyers are ninth, four points behind the Wings but with a game in hand.

DATSYUK PRACTICES: Pavel Datsyuk was a late scratch for Sunday's game due to illness but he was able to practice in Columbus Monday afternoon.

Datsyuk talked about how he was feeling after finishing.

"A little bit better," Datsyuk said. "I'm just looking to tomorrow, play tomorrow. I'm hoping."

Blashill said he spoke to Datsyuk but would wait and see how he feels Tuesday.

"He wants to make sure he feels good," Blashill said. "He hopes he feels better tomorrow than he did today but he was able to get a sweat on, which is important."

Datsyuk said he was feeling a little sick last week but Sunday was the worst he had felt.

He hoped practice would help move whatever bug he had completely out.

"You can see, lots of sweat," Datsyuk said. "I didn't do anything yesterday, can't do anything but today it's lot of sweat. I hope it keep helping me just to go away everything."

FIXING THE POWER PLAY: Everyone is tired of talking about it but the fact remains that the Wings' power play is not working.

Currently the Wings are 24th in the league with the man-advantage, cashing in on just 17.2 percent of their opportunities.

The first part of Monday's practice was devoted to power-play entries and setups.

"I thought we had entries yesterday where we should have been in the zone and didn’t have good enough support, so we want to make sure we have proper support," Blashill said. "And two, doing a good job in terms of pressure, being able to retrieve pucks and not just retrieve them and maintain possession but attack off of that. So those were the two areas we focused on. There’s been nights it’s been good, there’s been nights it hasn’t been as good. I always look at the process of it but in the end we have to get more results off it."

Datsyuk said the game has changed because more teams and played are focused on blocking shots than when he first came into the league.

"It's shocking when they show team blocked shots and they say after almost 60 games, we have 1,000 blocked shots," Datsyuk said. "It's not like hockey anymore, it's like volleyball with blocked shots or something. We'll see where it goes. Maybe not (for) fans not exciting, looking to block shots. Looking to score or something."

Last season, the Wings were second to the Washington Capitals with a 23.8 percentage.

"Last year be more on the same page, which is shooting, follow puck and rebound," Datsyuk said. "Lots of confidence. Where does the puck go, we know exactly. Now with the change, we need to come back to our style, shoot, delivery of puck. Of course we need to be fast around net, follow rebound. Sometimes we no have second chance. But it's now every goalie's big, we need second chance."

Blashill said the Wings have to find more ways to get pucks to the net.

"One way I think you can do that lots is when do shoot it and they block it you win those loose pucks, you retrieve them and attack right away," Blashill said. "We’ve won those loose pucks, where we’ve retrieved them and not attacked or we haven’t won enough of those loose pucks. We’re working on making sure we’re in good position to retrieve them, making sure we retrieve them and then attacking when we retrieve them and not letting them reset up their kill. Once teams set up their kill it’s hard to get pucks to the net."

D-PAIRS CHANGING: In Monday's practice at Nationwide Arena, the defensive pairs had changed a bit but that doesn't mean they will be that way for the game.

While Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson remained together, it was Kyle Quincey skating with Mike Green while Danny DeKeyser skated with Alexey Marchenko. Brendan Smith was the extra defenseman.

Marchenko was a healthy scratch Sunday.

"We’re still evaluating lineup decisions until tomorrow," Blashill said.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DANNY: DeKeyser turned 26 Monday.

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