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Notes: Howard edging closer to rehabilitation, return

Weekend wins have Wings feeling better about themselves as bye approaches

by Arthur J. Regner and Dana Wakiji @ArthurJRegner and @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard appears to be making progress and is optimistic that he could be between the pipes for the Wings in the near future.  

Howard joined a handful of his teammates for an optional practice Monday at the Joe where he participated in full drills - moving side-to-side effortlessly and facing a barrage of high caliber shots.  

"It feels good being able to practice with the guys; we're not quite there just yet," he said after practice. "It's gotten better every single day which is a positive. We've progressed every single day, so hopefully we can keep moving up the ladder here."

Until his injury on December 20 against Tampa, Howard was putting up career numbers.

In 17 games, his goals-against average was a scintillating 1.96 and his save percentage was a gaudy .934.

He had earned the spot as Detroit's number one goalie and it finally appeared that he had turned the corner and away from the injury bug that he had been battling the last few seasons.

"Injuries are part of the game. What happened this year is just unfortunate, it's a hockey play made out front, my defenseman was just trying to clear the crease," said Howard when asked how he maintains his positive attitude. "So it was no one's fault. The game is played at such a high pace accidents happen out there."

Coach Jeff Blashill likes what he sees from Howard, he remains optimistic, yet he still has a wait-and-see approach about a definitive timetable on when Howard will return to the lineup.   

"It's another step in the right direction today," Blashill said. "Part of it was to test and see how far he could go until he gets off the ice and we'll know for sure how it went. But he seems like for the most part he can do almost all the movements.

"We're kind of waiting for him to get one movement down where there's no twinge of pain. If he can get that movement down where there's no twinge of pain, that'll be a big step. I don't know where that's at, I probably won't know more until after practice tomorrow (Tuesday)."

During Detroit's upcoming bye, Howard will continue to work on getting healthy with his sights set on a rehab assignment with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

"There are quite a few scenarios right now that we're kicking around, so hopefully we'll do it sooner rather than later," Howard said. "We have been following the protocol and have been progressing every single day. Hopefully, I can get down there (Grand Rapids) and play there soon."

An air of confidence was apparent with the Wings on Monday and though he was not part of Detroit's back-to-back weekend victories over Washington and Pittsburgh, Howard shared his thoughts on the impressive wins and the Wings' playoff streak of 25 consecutive seasons.

"Our backs are against the wall here," Howard said. "Everyone in this dressing room realizes what's at stake. You can't go out there and just expect to play half a game or 20 minutes and expect to win.

"The guys have gone out there and put in some great efforts as of late and maybe sometimes we haven't gotten the results, but the last few games we have and that's great to see. You can definitely see the confidence in this room rising."

As far as the playoff streak goes, Howard knows that his teammates have a lot of pride and while others may downplay Detroit's playoff run, it does motivate the Wings, but only to a point.

"It does mean a lot to all of us in here," Howard said. "We've seen the guys before us, the efforts that they put into to make this organization what it is today. A lot of hard work and hours away from the rink too. It does mean a lot but at the same time I think everyone isn't like, 'The streak, streak!'

"Right now it's just going out there playing one game at a time and giving ourselves a chance."  

RED WINGS CONFIDENCE RENEWED: In all honesty, the Wings' success this past weekend in beating Washington and Pittsburgh, didn't 'shock the Hockey World,' but it did provide the Wings with a confidence boost, which was needed as Detroit goes down the home stretch of their schedule.

"It's huge," defenseman Mike Green said. "More importantly, we're really playing good hockey. If we can continue that after the break here and finishing with the game tomorrow night, we'll go on a run, we'll create some points and we'll put ourselves in a good position. Right now we're playing good and we need to continue."

After Tuesday, the Wings will have their five-day break and return to action February 28 at Vancouver.

"I think there's a sense of confidence that's risen in the last little bit," Green said. "I think really details and guys are really competing. I think one of the biggest things in sitting out the last two games was our forecheck and staying above guys. We're a really playing a patient game and it's cause for some chaos and confusion in the other team's zone and we've gotten a lot of chances. If we continue that we'll be good."

Forward Thomas Vanek echoed Green, but he knows that two games is not the elixir that magically catapults the Wings squarely into the playoffs.

"It certainly feels good," Vanek said. "Like I said before, the big picture is not pretty so I think the message is just play game-by-game. This group has a lot of character, so that's good, so there's nothing to worry about on that side. We're going to come out and play hard and try and win games."

GREEN READY: Green, who missed the last two games because he was sick, took part in the team's optional practice Monday at Joe Louis Arena.

"Had basically a stomach virus, flu for the last little bit here," Blashill said. "But he said he feels much better today, was able to skate today so we'll know for sure tomorrow but we're expecting him."

Green said he definitely feels he can play Tuesday against the New York Islanders.

"A lot better," Green said. "I just came down with a little bit of a bug but I feel great. I'm ready to go for tomorrow."

Green is seventh on the team in scoring with 26 points and leads all Detroit defensemen in that category.

Green said he was disappointed he couldn't play Saturday against his former team, the Washington Capitals.

"I was, actually," Green said. "But more importantly we got the win and that's all that matters."

With the March 1 trade deadline approaching quickly, Green said he is not thinking about the possibility of being dealt somewhere else.

"I'm just focused on what's happening in this dressing room," Greens said. "Continuing to try to get better and win hockey games."

NYQUIST STILL WORKING: Gustav Nyquist has missed the last three games as part of his six-game suspension for his hit on Minnesota's Jared Spurgeon but he's continuing to work.

Nyquist was among the small group of players who was on ice for the optional practice Monday.

"I've put that behind me now," Nyquist said. "I've accepted the league's decision. That's behind me now. I'm just looking forward to getting back on the ice."

Unfortunately for Nyquist, the team's five-day bye comes in the middle of his suspension so he'll go 19 days between games.

"It turned out to be a little longer than it would have been in a normal case," Nyquist said. "Now we've all got five days in between and two full off days so for sure I think the first game back is March 4. I've just got to work hard in practice, do your extra stuff and make sure you're in shape so hopefully I'll be able to do that and come back strong."

Nyquist is eligible to return March 4 at Edmonton.

Nyquist is fourth on the team in scoring with 29 points.

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