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Notes: Howard earns third consecutive start

Thomas Vanek has started skating; Bob Kaser fills in for ailing Ken Kal

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - If you look atop the goaltending statistics, you will find Jimmy Howard leading the way in goals-against average and save percentage.

Petr Mrazek may be the Red Wings No. 1 goaltender but Howard has played so well that he has earned another start, his third straight.

"Jimmy's playing really good hockey and he's playing at such a level there that it just makes more sense to make sure we're back with him," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said after the morning skate Thursday.

In six games, Howard is 3-2 with a 1.26 goals-against average and .958 save percentage.

"I think no matter who you are or what type of athlete you are, whenever you get a chance to go out there several times and show what you can do, it definitely builds your confidence," Howard said.

Blashill credited Howard for the work he has done, both in the offseason and currently.

"Jimmy went to work this summer to improve his game, spent some time with a bunch of goalies in Wisconsin, with a bunch of elite goalies," Blashill said. "Came into the season and said every day he's going to go to work and get better and that's what he's done. I think no matter your age you can keep getting better and sometimes you have to change how you play as you move through your career, for multiple reasons. He's made little adjustments that have helped him, his crease management has been real good. He's stayed more patient on his edges, so he can react from his edges real well. Every player in here, as they move through seasons and careers, you might have to make adjustments to continue to be elite and he's taken certain steps that way."

Since the Wings' 2-1 shootout win in St. Louis, Mrazek is 0-2-1 with a 4.93 GAA and .850 save percentage.

Blashill said he gives the same message to the goaltenders as he does to all the players.

"Let's get better every day and let's keep focusing on getting better and that's all they control," Blashill said. "I control the decision process. They control getting better every day and making sure when they get opportunities they're ready to excel."

CANUCKS UP NEXT: The Vancouver Canucks started the season on a hot streak, winning their first four games, but have since come back to earth.

The Canucks are 5-8-1 overall and 1-8-1 in their last 10 games.

However, they did just beat the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Tuesday, 5-3.

"It doesn't matter who you're playing in the NHL, if you don't show up they're going to beat you so we got to take it upon ourselves to be ready to go tonight," Howard said.

Howard is very familiar with the Canucks from when the Wings were in the Western Conference. In 21 games against Vancouver, Howard is 12-6-3 with a 2.54 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

When you think of the Canucks, you think of the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, drafted second and third overall, respectively in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.

"You know what to expect from them and how talented and skilled they are, Steve Ott said. "They have a lot of special plays they do together. When you're watching them and playing against them, you can relate to your teammates who are maybe not so familiar with some of their special ones."

One player who is very familiar with the Sedins is Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who was also drafted in 1999, in the seventh round, 210th overall.

Zetterberg has played with the Sedins on Team Sweden several times in international competition, including the Olympics.

Another player well-known to the Wings is goaltender Ryan Miller, the older brother of Detroit's Drew Miller and the former Michigan State star.

"I've been a big Ryan Miller fan going back to when he was at Michigan State - actually when he was with the Soo Indians playing for Joe Shaw there," Blashill said. "I've always been a big Ryan Miller fan. He would go through practices from what I understand at Michigan State and not get scored on. Not games. Practices. I think he's had an excellent career. I looked at his goals-against average and it's still great. He still makes it hard for shooters to score. He's really done a good job of filling space and playing percentages really, really well. He uses his frame real well. So I'm a big fan. I hope I'm not tonight."

In 17 career games against the Wings, Miller is 4-10-3 with a 3.20 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.

"Ryan's a great guy, I've gotten to know him over the years and got to know him a lot better being over in Sochi with him," Howard said. "It's going to be a lot of fun to go up against him tonight."

VANEK UPDATE: Thomas Vanek, who has missed the last seven games with a lower-body injury and was placed on long-term injured reserve Monday, is taking a step towards returning.

"He skated today," Blashill said. "Thomas is skating a little bit. I think he's going to have the sufficient time to make sure that when he comes back he's going to be going full out. I assume when he's ready to come off the long-term IR then he should then be ready to step in and play. The one thing I talked to him about was he came off the World Cup and I thought he could hit the ground running at the start of the year. Now that he's been off a lengthy amount of time we want to make sure it's the same thing. He's ready to hit the ground running when he comes in for his next game."

Long-term injured reserve means a player will miss at least 10 games and 24 days.

GET WELL, KEN: Wings radio play-by-play announcer Ken Kal is sitting out tonight's game against Vancouver due to illness.

Stepping into the breach is longtime Grand Rapids Griffins announcer Bob Kaser, who will be calling his first NHL game.

"It's an honor beyond words," Kaser said in a statement. "I think of Bruce Martyn and Ken Kal, two legends of Detroit broadcasting who I've listened to over and over again for many years. To suddenly be in the chair of those two guys, it's incredibly emotional. I can't put into words what that means to me, a Red Wings fan since I was a little kid. I'm looking forward to tonight, but I hope Ken feels better real soon."

Kaser has been the voice of the Griffins since 2000, won the AHL's 2009-10 Ellery Award for excellence in radio broadcasting and is a two-time International Hockey League Broadcaster of the Year.

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