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Mrazek plays big in relief appearance

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Jimmy Howard, who made eight saves on nine shots in the first period, did not return at the start of the second in Friday's game against the New York Islanders. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Red Wings starting goalie Jimmy Howard left Friday’s game early with an undisclosed lower-body injury.

It was the first time in 26 starts this season that the veteran goalie hasn’t finished a game.

Coach Mike Babcock was more ambiguous when asked about Howard’s injury following the Red Wings’ 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders at Joe Louis Arena.

“He’s hurt,” he said.

What’s the prognosis?

“Coach. Doctor,” Babcock said. “The doctorate they gave me is an honorary one. It doesn’t count.”

Howard played the first 20 minutes against the Islanders, but the veteran goalie did not come out for the second period. According to a team official, the move to pull Howard from the game, replacing him with backup Petr Mrazek, was precautionary.

Health has been a big reason for Howard’s turnaround from a less than satisfactory 2013-14. He’s among the league leaders in wins, goals-against average and shutouts this season.

Howard made eight saves on nine shots in the first period against the Islanders who came in waves at the Red Wings’ goaltender throughout the opening 20 minutes.

The goal surrendered by Howard came at 16:03 when center Brock Nelson scored on a tremendous individual effort, diving into the slot where he poked the loose puck under the Wings’ goaltender. It was Nelson’s team-leading 14th goal of the season.

Mrazek was immediately tested when the Islanders went on the power play in the opening minute of the period. But Mrazek was up to the challenge, stopping all four shots, including one by Nelson from point-blank range. Luckily, Mrazek didn’t injury a groin on the spectacular play where he did the splits to cover the bottom of the crease from post to post.

“They had a power play and it was my first minute on the ice, so I just tried to be focused and get into the game,” said Mrazek, who stopped 22 shots, earning the game’s second star. “So I was happy that some pucks hit me in the first five minutes.”

The Islanders’ only goal against Mrazek came as a result of a turnover in the Red Wings’ zone and Anders Lee capitalized, giving New York a one-goal lead at 10:41 of the second.

At times, Mrazek played pucks too aggressively, which gave the Islanders a couple good scoring chances.

“I like it when he handles the puck,” Babcock said. “I don’t like it when they’re shooting it at our net and he’s not in there.”

It was Mrazek’s first home action in almost a year when he relieved Howard in the second half a 4-1 loss to St. Louis on Jan. 20, 2014.

It was the fourth time in his short NHL career that Mrazek has appeared in a relief role, the third time for Howard.

“You have to be ready all the time and that’s how the second goalie is,” Mrazek said. “They told me I was going in, so I just stretch out and get ready.”

Howard’s status is ay to day, though it's unclear if he's be ready to play in Sunday’s home game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Red Wings reassigned defenseman Xavier Ouellet to AHL GRand Rapids in order to make room to recall Griffins goalie Tom McCollum.

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