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Jan. 19: A Look Ahead in Hockeytown

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings
Prior to Sunday's game against Buffalo, Petr Mrazek had a 8-3-1 record with a 2.12 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 12 appearances. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT — A light work week for the Red Wings will provide a nice break heading down the backstretch of the schedule.

The Minnesota Wild come to Detroit looking to cool off the red-hot Wings in its lone game of the week as young Petr Mrazek has won three in a row and five of its last six prior to Sunday's game.

Mrazek has started each of the last four games including games on consecutive nights over the past weekend against Nashville on Saturday and Buffalo on Sunday. He will be the Wings go-to guy between the pipes until coach Mike Babcock says otherwise, serving in relief of injured Jimmy Howard (groin).

The 22-year-old Mrazek has impressed in his last three starts prior to Sunday.

“It’s like being on the mound in baseball,” Babcock said. “When they give you run support it’s way easier to be great. I don’t know if that makes any sense. I thought the guys got off to a good start and then he was big and square.”

Babcock’s analogy is exactly how the Wings can continue to help the young goaltender settle into his role as a starter by providing him with offense early. Minnesota has scored 33 first-period goals, tied for 18th in the NHL, and doesn’t present an overwhelming offensive threat. The Wings, however, have managed 36 first-period goals and have had trouble starting games on time.

With three first-period goals against the Predators on Saturday and earning wins in three consecutive games despite the absence of Howard, confidence in the locker room should be high as the team has continued to roll against some of the NHL’s top teams with Mrazek in net.

“I fell pretty good right now, like every game I want to say,” Mrazek said. “Every game is important and you want to win and you have to be ready for that.”

Howard will not partake in this weekend’s All-Star Game festivities. The NHL was not obligated to replace the injured goalie with another Wings’ player so for just the second time in history, Detroit will not be represented and will be the only NHL club not present at the All-Star Game.

In 2009, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Lidstrom declined to participate due to injuries marking the first time that a Wings’ member was not present for the league event.

The All-Star fantasy draft will take place Friday where captains Nick Foligno and Jonathan Toews will divide the 42 All-Stars and six rookies into two teams. On Saturday, members of both teams will compete in the All-Star skills competition including hardest shot, accuracy shooting and breakaway challenge among others before the two teams face off in Sunday’s 5 p.m. game.

With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:

Zach Parise

TUESDAY vs. MINNESOTA (20-19-5): In seventh place in the Central Division, the Wild’s 45 points is 12th among 14 Western Conference teams. The team’s struggles can be credited to the revolving door in the dressing room, as the Wild have used 34 different lineups in its 44 games with only five skaters appearing in every game this season. Before picking up back-to-back wins agains the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday and Arizona Coyotes on Saturday, the Wild had lost five in a row and managed just 10 goals during that slump. Giving up the 24th most goals in the league at 2.91 per game, Minnesota goalies have struggled but with the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk from the Coyotes, the Wild hope that the 28-year-old can provide some much-needed support in net.

PLAYER TO WATCH: With a goal in each of the team’s last two wins, Zach Parise has fueled the Minnesota machine recording a point in 21-of-36 games this season. Tied for the team lead with 16 goals, the Minneapolis, Minn., native has been better in his home state than he has fared on the road recording just 13 of his 33 points in away games. Parise has been successful against the Wings though, having recorded three goals and an assist in his last three appearances at Joe Louis Arena. The 30-year-old left winger leads all Minnesota forwards in ice time, averaging 19:37 per game and is tied for the team lead with five power-play goals.

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