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Notes: Howard expected to play Sunday versus Arizona

Veteran netminder will make one more start for Grand Rapids on Friday at Iowa

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- After Thursday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center, many of the Red Wings players were surprised when they learned goalie Eric Comrie had been claimed off waivers by the Winnipeg Jets, the team that originally drafted him in the second round (59th overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

Several of the Wings found it hard to believe that Comrie was going back to where it all began for him, but they wished him luck.

"We knew that was part of the potential risk in it," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill told reporters about the loss of Comrie. "At the end of the day, we made the decision with our eyes wide open. We were able to see him play a couple of games. We were able to see him in practice and we knew it was a potential and said we were OK with that risk and so be it."

Comrie was acquired on Nov. 30 from Arizona in exchange for defensive prospect Vili Saarijarvi. He appeared in three games, two as a starter in net for the Red Wings, compiling an 0-2 record, with a goals-against average of 4.28 and an .864 save percentage.

When Comrie was put on waivers on Wednesday, it was a clear indicator injured goalie Jimmy Howard was close to returning to the Detroit lineup.

Howard has been out since he suffered a groin injury on Nov. 27 against Toronto at Little Caesars Arena.

On Tuesday, Howard, who's on a conditioning stint with Grand Rapids, led the Griffins to a 3-2 shootout victory over the San Diego Gulls in San Diego. The veteran netminder stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced and stonewalled the Gulls on all three of their shootout attempts.

"Our plan is to have Jimmy play on Friday for GR against Iowa," Blashill said. "So we'll bring another goalie to back up on Saturday (at Toronto) and have Jimmy in position to play on Sunday (at home versus Arizona). That's how it stands today. Sometimes things change, but that's our plan."

It has been a difficult year for Howard, 35, who could become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He's 2-11-1 this season with a goals-against average of 3.94 and a save percentage of .887.

Since Comrie was claimed by the Jets, the Red Wings have called up Calvin Pickard from Grand Rapids to back up Jonathan Bernier Saturday in Toronto.

Pickard has made one start for the Red Wings this season. On Nov. 29, he was on the short end of a 6-1 defeat against the Flyers in Philadelphia.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Coach Blashill gives some updates following today's practice at the @BELFORGroup Training Center. #RedWings pic.twitter.com/KB24xVb81b

ABDELKADER A HEALTHY SCRATCH AGAINST COLUMBUS: Justin Abdelkader was a healthy scratch on Tuesday versus the Blue Jackets, the first time this season the Red Wings' alternate captain was a healthy scratch.

"I am not sending a message per se," Blashill said about his decision to sit Abdelkader. "First of all, I think Justin is a great person, a really good pro, has been a really good Red Wing, cares a ton about being a Red Wing, so I really don't like to put him in a position where we have to talk about this because he works hard, he competes hard.

"What's the message? You just have to play a little bit better. At the end of the day, he's in a group of guys that different guys can sit at different times and we made the decision to sit him the other night. So whether that moves forward or not, we'll see.

"I'll decide the lineup on Saturday, but I expect him to do a couple of things, one is to work like crazy to get back in, which I know he will, and to be a great mentor as how he handles this adversity and I know he'll do that as well."

Blashill indicated the Wings have several players who are in similar situation as Abdelkader -- trying to make the most of the limited ice time they receive.

"Anytime you work your way to being a bubble guy, there's a few different guys on the team being in that spot, you're not getting minutes, you're not getting prime minutes, it's hard, it's hard to do a lot in that time.

"What I would say is, him (Abdelkader) and I had this conversation prior to the Anaheim game, game three of the season, and I thought that game, when we walked off the bench, he was one of our better forwards in 12 minutes or whatever, he created a lot of opportunities.

"How did he do it? He did it by being really good down low, he got the puck down low and made good passouts to the front, protected it (the puck) and stuff like that. Unfortunately, he went through a stretch where he was playing good hockey and he got hurt twice in a row. It's hard, anytime you get hurt, you fall out of rhythm and when you get a little bit older, it gets harder and he's just fighting his way back in, so this is not a knock on him as a competitor or a person or anything like that, he's just fighting his way back in to where, with his play, in those 10 to 12 minutes he can say, 'You're not going to take me out.' It's hard to do that for sure."

In 20 games this season, Abdelkader has three assists, is even, has been assessed four minutes in penalties, has doled out 42 hits and registered 14 blocked shots with an ice time average of 12:42 per game.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: The #RedWings today recalled goaltender Calvin Pickard from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.Details ��� https://t.co/KtxrXoNUwf pic.twitter.com/E7zGmdYkbl

CONSISTENCY KEY TO SUCCESS: The Red Wings are well aware once they lose a game, they've had a difficult time trying to stop the bleeding before one loss multiplies into several.

"I think it's not thinking about it (losing). Just playing and playing the right way," said Dylan Larkin. "You have to play the right way to win games. At times, we've done that. I think the more we do it, the better we are as a team. All guys playing the right way will turn this around."

What has hampered the Wings this season is finding the consistency needed to be successful on most nights.

"It's a grueling schedule and you're not going to have that every night. I've said that for a bit," Larkin said. "When you consistently play the right way, play together and for each other and want the puck and move it together, you're a better team. We've done it at times. We just need to put it together all of the time."

Abdelkader thinks consistency comes down to creating chemistry, trusting each other and communication.

"You're fighting for it each and every day, trying to get some momentum going, chemistry amongst each other on your lines," Abdelkader said. "It's tough when you're losing, because things are changing constantly. That's a big part of being successful, is having that overall chemistry.

"You worry about yourself, making sure you're giving the team the best opportunity to win amongst your group and your linemates, trying to get as good a chemistry as you can."

Because losing brings about constant changing of the line combinations, Abdelkader stressed the importance of talking to his linemates before and during games.

"We meet a little bit. We'll have meetings. We'll talk amongst each other and talk on the bench, (about) how we want to play," Abdelkader said. "Usually you get a line together and you have guys that have certain roles. You want to make sure that guys are all chipping in and doing their part.

"When you have that chemistry, you see some of the best lines in the NHL, they've been together for a number of games, a number of years. They just know where each other is going to be on the ice, and that's huge."

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