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Notes: Howard practices, says he's ready to play against Penguins

Green excited to be an All-Star for the second time in his career

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

PITTSBURGH -- It was a welcome sight for the Red Wings when they skated out for practice in Pittsburgh and saw Jimmy Howard.

Howard and fellow goaltender Petr Mrazek were on the ice at PPG Paints Arena working with goaltending coach Jeff Salajko before practice started late Friday afternoon.

Howard missed the team's last game Sunday, Jan. 7, against the Tampa Bay Lightning before their bye because of a lower-body injury he suffered in a win over the Florida Panthers on Jan. 5.

"It was on the first goal (late in the second period)," Howard said. "During the game I felt it but I felt like I could still go. Then the next morning I woke up and there was stiffness in the knee. I tried skating for about 20, 25 minutes and didn't feel like it was smart to push it. With the break it's responded and that's what we wanted it to do."

The Wings called up Jared Coreau from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins to back up Mrazek but sent him back down afterward.

Howard said he felt at the time that he would not be out very long.

"I knew it was going to be nothing major," Howard said. "It was just better to be smart and miss one game then try to do something stupid and wind up out for a longer period of time."

Howard participated in the entire practice without any problems.

"I think it was important to find out where he was at," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I wanted to wait and see him in practice before I decided to make any decisions so it was good to see he practiced well."

Having the bye right after the Tampa game meant that Howard could take a little time to make sure he was fine.

"It was great timing, if you could have good timing with something like that," Howard said.

Howard is 14-12-0-6 with a 2.64 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.

"It's great," defenseman Mike Green said. "He's been playing so well all season. You never want to see a guy go down with an injury. Luckily, it wasn't too bad and he was able to take care of himself over the break where he's ready to go."

Howard said he took his family to Florida during the break.

GREEN TO REPRESENT WINGS: Green was in Phoenix with his family when he found out he was the Wings' All-Star representative.

"I'm excited," Green said. "It's always great once you get there and you mingle with the guys and the excitement around the game."

Green is 20th among league defensemen in points with 24 (4-20-24) and leads all Detroit defensemen in scoring.

"I think it's well-deserved," Blashill said. "He's been a very, very good Red Wing. I've just been very, very impressed with his approach since he's been here. He's a great pro, he works so hard every day, he works to get better every day, he's been a good example for some of our young players so I think it's great for him."

This will be Green's second All-Star appearance as he was an alternate captain for Team Staal in the 2011 All-Star Game when he was with the Washington Capitals.

The format is a little different than that game with the 3-on-3 play that started in 2015.

"I think it's fine," Green said. "I'm more excited to kind of hang out and enjoy the atmosphere and the experience as opposed to just the way things operate."

Green is the first Wings defenseman to be named to the All-Star Game since Nick Lidstrom in 2011.

He is also the first Detroit defenseman other than Lidstrom to make the All-Star Game since Chris Chelios in 2002.

"It's great for him to be able to go represent our organization," Howard said. "He's a great player. He's a great guy. It's fun to see that he's going to be able to go participate and show off his skills."

As for the skills competition, however, Green did not seem all that enthused.

"I don't think I need to be in anything, to be honest," Green said. "If there was a drill to go off the glass,, then maybe. I could pass pucks, that's about it."

All of Green's teammates gave him a big round of stick taps when Blashill mentioned it at the end of Friday's practice.

"It's great you know," Martin Frk said. "He's representing our players from here and also the whole organization, so it's definitely a big thing. He deserves it. He played so far very well. He's a top defense player in the league. It will be nice to see him there."

FRK FINE AFTER SCARE: It was a scary moment for everyone when Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi went to block Frk's shot and ended up taking it in the back of the neck.

Girardi left the game and did not return but the team announced that he was expected to be fine.

There was some concern that Frk might hesitate to shoot the puck after what happened but he said he plans to play the same way.

"My shot gets me here where I am right now," Frk said. "I will definitely not take anything off of it. I just want to do my job. It's scary. I don't want to see that happen. I would rather hit him anywhere else but the neck. It's really scary but also that's my job and I'm going to do it 100 percent. So I will just want to make sure I it the next instead of guys standing in front of me. Definitely scary."

Frk said he reached out to Girardi right afterward.

"I texted the guy I hit. I wanted to check on how he's doing, and he said he's doing good," Frk said. "I was really happy to hear that as well."

Blashill had said after the game he planned to talk to Frk about what happened.

"I think Marty understands that the weapon that's got him in the NHL is his shot. It's going to be the weapon that keeps him in the NHL and he's got to keep shooting it," Blashill said. "Those are incidents that happen, they're freakish. As I said, there is inherent risk when you play this sport and Marty has to make sure he's shooting the puck in order to make sure that he's an effective player.

"Now with that said, too, one of the things we want Marty to do as much as possible is hit the net because when he hits the net, it creates rebounds every time and those rebounds create chaos."

BERTUZZI OK DESPITE CRASH: Late in Friday's practice, Tyler Bertuzzi crashed into the boards and left the ice holding his right wrist.

Fortunately, Bertuzzi was able to return to the ice a brief time later.

"I anticipate Tyler being ready for tomorrow," Blashill said. "That's not to say he might wake up tomorrow and it hurts. But I anticipate him being ready for tomorrow."

BOOTH'S TRAVEL WOES: Forward David Booth missed Friday's practice but not because of an injury.

"David had some flight issues to get in here today," Blashill said. "So he'll be here tonight and should be available for tomorrow."

BACK TO WORK: Many of the Wings spent their break in warmer climes like Mexico or Florida but it was back to the cold and back to work as the team flew to Pittsburgh Friday.

"We went through it a little bit last year," Blashill said. "Actually last year was a little bit tougher because both teams weren't on break necessarily and in this case, both us and Pitt are in the exact same boat. I think anytime you have equal playing field, let's go play. It's been four days. That's not two weeks. We get a chance to have a good practice, get some things out of us and get ready to go tomorrow."

Blashill said the players generally enjoy getting a mental refresher during the long grind of the season.

"Definitely it's something everyone was looking for," said Frk, who went to Cancun, Mexico. "Guys booking trips ahead because they are excited for that. It's feeling good. I bet every team is excited for that. I was really happy for that. Now it's time to work again and have some fun playing hockey."

Blashill said after the Christmas break, the team had six games before their bye. Now they have seven games to focus on before the All-Star break.

"Obviously we have a couple weeks here, a week and a half, so it's imperative that we get these games," Green said. "It's not going to get easier as the tail end of the season happens. Every game's a battle, it's always been a battle so we'll just continue to make sure that we play good hockey and we give ourselves a really good chance to win every night."

The first test will be the Penguins, who find themselves just outside the playoff picture, one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the last wild card spot.

"We know they have a good offense," Frk said. "We want to make sure we don't give them any power play, because that first unit is really good and they play a lot of minutes on the power play. We don't want to give them anything like that. We also want to play our game. You want to be the team who's bringing the tempo on the ice. For sure we'll be maybe a little bit rusty tomorrow but we want to play simple and we want to play hard."

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is going to be a challenge for the Wings. He has 15 goals among 43 points in 44 games.

"Just when you think you have him figured out, you don't," Green said. "He's always kind of creating and he's so talented. I think the biggest thing is taking his time and space away. When you stay close to him and don't give him an opportunity to go left or right, then he gets frustrated. So yeah, if you can kind of stay with him and make him, kind of force him to go one way or the other, then you should be fine."

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