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Monster to get first start with Wings

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Twice this season, Jonas Gustavsson (R) has entered a game to replace starter Jimmy Howard, like he did in a 6-0 season-opening loss at St. Louis. (Photo by Getty Images)

SAN JOSE, Calif. – It’s expected that backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson will start his first game with his new team when the Red Wings play the Sharks tonight at HP Pavilion.

“That's something I've been looking forward to,” said Gustavsson, who has battled a groin injury since the season-opener in St. Louis. “You want to be out there and compete. It's something I've been practicing for and doing my workouts.”

Gustavsson has appeared in two games – both in relief roles after starter Jimmy Howard was lifted from games – on Jan. 19 against the Blues and Feb. 19 at Nashville. In all, Gustavsson has made 23 saves on 26 shots in 68 minutes. He will become the 80th goalie to start a game for the Original Six franchise.

Howard pulled himself from the game against the Predators, a 4-3 overtime loss, when he experienced blurry vision and had difficulty tracking the puck. A CT scan and other tests later performed by an optometrist were negative, and Howard did not miss a start.

The 28-year-old Gustavsson, who is 0-0-1 with a 2.64 goals-against average and .885 save percentage, was supposed to get his first start last Sunday against Vancouver. But team officials were precaution after the Swedish netminder had a relapse in his recovery during pregame warm-ups last Saturday.

“I felt a little bit, so they thought it was better to take one or two days off and hopefully it would be better than to gamble and play and maybe it would be good, maybe it would be worse,” Gustavsson said. “Medical team thought that was best. I look forward and stay positive.”

Two weeks ago Gustavsson felt good enough to go on a rehabilitation assignment in Grand Rapids with the club’s AHL affiliate. In that game, he was named the No. 1 Star, making 26 saves on 27 shots and helping the Griffins to a 2-1 win over Charlotte on Feb. 17.

Nicknamed the ‘Monster’ for his huge wingspan and butterfly style that takes up a lot of room in the crease, Gustavsson signed a two-year contract with the Red Wings in July. At that point, team officials thought they had found the solution they desired, an experienced backup who not only could give Howard an occasional rest, but would give the team an excellent chance to win in that role.

Groin injuries have bothered him in the past, Gustavsson said. But the latest round is particularly bothersome because of the situation with a new team, which is compounded by the compressed NHL schedule.

“It's been frustrating being out of the lineup,” he said. “You just got to do the best thing and when you're healthy just work as hard as you can on the ice to get back playing. (Injuries are) part of hockey, sometimes you're going to get more, sometimes you're going to get less.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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