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Notes: Bernier out through All-Star break

Howard looking forward to the challenge of turning his season around

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner /

DETROIT -- Injuries have plagued the Red Wings throughout this season, so it really didn't come as a surprise when Wings coach Jeff Blashill informed the hockey press corps that goaltender Jonathan Bernier will be out with a lower-body injury at least through the All-Star break, which is a minimum of five games.

"I anticipate Bernier being out probably at least to the All-Star break." Blashill said after Monday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center inside Little Caesars Arena. "He had an appointment this morning. The doctor suggested he take the time off that I talked about, which means some of that's a precautionary thing so it doesn't get worse. When he'll be back on the ice, I don't know that for sure."

Bernier was playing well before the injury, which occurred during Friday's shootout versus the Ottawa Senators when Bernier was trying to make a save on Anthony Duclair's shootout attempt in the Wings 3-2 victory. Duclair's shot was wide of the net.

In his last nine starts, Bernier is 5-3-0 with a goals-against average of 2.09 and a save percentage of .937.

This season, Bernier is 10-12-2, with a 2.99 goals-against average, .904 save percentage and one shutout. He has also picked up three assists.

Detroit is already without the services of Danny DeKeyser, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, but Blashill told reporters injuries are a slice of the big picture.

"It's part of sports, it's part of hockey. We got to have a mentality as a team, as a coaching staff, of just worrying about who's available to us," Blashill said. "You can't fret about the injuries. It's reality. There's not one thing we can do about it. So does it make it more difficult? Of course it does. Does your team look different? Of course it does.

"But we can't spend one minute thinking about it. We got to try to win a hockey game with the guys we have available to us. We've got a good enough group available to us to go win a game, so let's go do that."

With Bernier on the shelf, the Red Wings will rely on veteran netminder Jimmy Howard, who is experiencing his most difficult season with the Red Wings.

Howard hasn't won a game since Oct. 29, when the Wings defeated Edmonton, 3-1, in Detroit.

He's 2-15-1 this season with a 4.10 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage.

"This has been probably the toughest (stretch). It's one of those things that's happening, and you have to dig yourself out of it," Howard said. "I don't think anyone's ever really ready for something like this but you still have to wake up every single day and come to work to get better and put your best foot forward."

Blashill, a former collegiate goalie at Ferris State, has been impressed with Howard's work ethic during this rough patch.

"First off, I think his body language has looked good. The practice before the last game he looked really, really good, so that, to me, is a good sign," Blashill said. "He's working towards getting himself a really good game and that's really important. When I see him in games, his body language looks good.

"Sometimes when goalies tend to struggle, they look small. I don't know if that's because the human brain of those observing it thinks that or that's reality. At the end of the day it's the most results-oriented position there is in sports. You either stop it or you don't. He's just got to keep working and I know he will, and our job is to make sure we play as good a defense in front of him as we can."

Throughout the year, Howard has broken down video and has had rigorous on-ice sessions with goaltending coach Jeff Salajko. He does not look at his numbers, but he knows he must be better.

"I know I can do it. Eventually, sooner or later, the hard work's going to pay off, I believe," Howard said. "I can't overanalyze things. Quit thinking out there and use my hockey instincts. I'm talking about when I'm out on the ice. When the game's going on, you basically don't want to be trying to be three places at once. Just play the one puck.

"It's just going out there and just playing. You just have to believe that sooner or later, you're going to come out of it. You hope that the bounces start going your way."

As a former goalie, Blashill tends not to get into goaltending specifics when he talks to Howard. He leaves those conversations for Salajko.

"I don't talk to Jimmy (about goaltending), I don't compare my career, never use myself in that fashion. I'm not in the position these guys have been in. They're way better players than I ever was," Blashill said. "The conversations I have with Jimmy are head coach to goalie. The conversations Sal (Salajko) has with Jimmy are probably different.

"My job is to make sure Jimmy is holding himself accountable, which he is. Two, that he's meeting the work ethic standard, which he is. And three, I have beliefs in certain things with goaltending and Sal and I have talked about those things and if I see little technique things that are issues, I have conversations with Sal and potentially the goaltender and I've done that throughout my time with the goalie coach."

A high confidence level is essential for any player's success, but especially if you're an NHL goalie. During this dry spell, Howard has tried to remain positive as he works his way back to playing his game.

"Confidence plays a big part of it for any player out there. Scorers not putting the puck in the net might be gripping the stick a little harder. For me, it's like I said -- not thinking and just playing the one puck out there," Howard said. "I think I've gotten better at it (staying confident). It's not easy. But at the same time, you have to figure it out and find a way to dig yourself out of it.

"I still enjoy it. I still love going out there to compete. I think at some point, maybe you're over-trying, you're trying to do too much out there. You go out there every single night and you want to win. You want to win in the worst way. Now I have the opportunity to go out there and find a way."

LARKIN, NEMETH, NIELSEN MISS PRACTICE: The Wings held an energetic practice on Monday as they prepared for Tuesday's night encounter against the New York Islanders on Long Island.

A few Red Wings did not practice on Monday, but Blashill indicated all three players, Dylan Larkin (tweak), Frans Nielsen (maintenance day) and Patrik Nemeth (maintenance day) should all be ready to go versus the Islanders.

"We anticipate Larkin, Nielsen and Nemeth all to be able to play tomorrow," Blashill said. "Combination of little tweaks and load management."

Tuesday's game will be the second of three meetings between the Wings and the Islanders. On Dec. 2, the Islanders beat the Red Wings, 4-1, in Detroit.

The third and final game of the three-game season series will be on Feb. 21 on Long Island.

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