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Notes: Howard to hit major milestone, joining elite Wings company

Frk clears waivers, will join Grand Rapids; Bertuzzi nearing return

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- When Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard leads his team onto the ice against the Ottawa Senators tonight, he will join elite company while hitting a big milestone.

The game will be Howard's 500th career appearance, all with the Wings.

Terry Sawchuk (734) and Chris Osgood (565) are the only other goaltenders that have played in 500 games for Detroit.

"I just never expected it," Howard said after the morning skate at Little Caesars Arena. "Growing up, being a kid from a small town, never expected -- always dreamt of playing in the NHL, didn't know it was going to become a reality. To play in my 500th game tonight with these guys in this room, with this organization, it's really special."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "For me, it's just a huge honor."Jimmy Howard set to play in NHL career game 500 tonight against Ottawa: pic.twitter.com/18sCHV5duE

It is also special for Wings coach Jeff Blashill, himself a former goaltender.

"I got tons of respect for Jimmy," Blashill said. "First, he's an unreal competitor. I watched him play in the national championship game at Maine a long time ago, I've known him as a goaltender for a long time but to coach him and be here, to watch … I felt after his first year he needed to change his game to kind of adapt to some of the things goalies were doing and he's done that.

"It's awesome to see the work he put in to get after it, the habit drills over and over, to create totally new habits, I think it's great lesson for any player in this league, that it's never too late to stop learning and getting better. He's as good now as he's ever been in the league and I think he's done a great job. I just got lots of respect for him."

Howard becomes the 71st in NHL history and eighth American-born goalie to hit the milestone, which he knew was in reach when he started this season.

"I knew it was a possibility but you never know. Injuries can happen," Howard said. "The season might not go your way. I'm just happy that I'll be able to do it here as a Red Wing and with this great group of guys."

Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson has played with Howard for 11-plus seasons and admires what his longtime teammate has accomplished.

"Obviously 500 as a goalie, that's a lot of games," Ericsson said. "So obviously that's impressive. You need to really basically be a No. 1 your whole career to reach that milestone, so good for him and good for us having him here. He's also a three-time All-Star."

Howard had the opportunity to play with Osgood when he first came into the league.

"Obviously, with Ozzie being one of my really good friends and mentor, I learned a lot from him growing up, so without him, this probably wouldn't have happened," Howard said. "A lot of great people on board, with (former Wings goaltending coach) Jim Bedard and (current goaltending coach) Jeff Salajko and obviously my family and friends."

The Red Wings returned home after their annual Fathers and Mentors trip, and Howard's dad, also named James, remains in town.

"For me personally, it's just a huge honor," Howard said. "To be able to do it here with my dad and my family, I guess it's just great timing."

Howard is also eighth all-time in games played by a goalie for just one team.

New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur leads that list with 1,266. New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist has 845; Mike Richter, Howard's favorite player growing up, had 666 for the Rangers; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Turk Broda had 629; Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has 607; Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price has 600; and Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick has 585.

Howard would love to keep growing the number past 500 but he is in the last year of a six-year, $31.75 million contract.

"Obviously I'd love to stay here," Howard said. "I don't have a crystal ball but I would love to return here."

FRK CLEARS WAIVERS: It's been a difficult season for forward Martin Frk, who has played in just 25 games this season, scoring one goal and four assists.

On Wednesday, the Red Wings placed Frk on waivers and he cleared at noon Thursday.

The Wings said they would assign Frk to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

"I just want to play," Frk said before noon. "If I got to go to the A, then I will go to the A. This season was so far really horrible for me. I just want to enjoy hockey, I don't want to be here sitting in the stands. It's been so long, so I'm excited to go somewhere where I can play."

Blashill said it was just a numbers game with Frk.

"He's a great person, he works extraordinarily hard," Blashill said. "We just made decisions, game after game we haven't had him in our lineup."

Frk, 25, had a slow start to the season because of a training camp injury but did not blame that for what has happened.

"Nothing you can do about it," Frk said. "Just got to come back. Guys were playing good in the preseason. You are out, someone takes your spot and he plays better than you, it comes down to that. I'm not mad about it, I just take it how it goes. I just tried to be ready every day for the opportunity. If I got it, I always tried to do my best. It comes down in the end to how much you're going to play, too, how much the coach trusts you, that's how hockey goes, that's business."

Although no other team picked Frk up, he said he felt a bit relieved when general manager Ken Holland told him at the end of the road trip that they were putting him on waivers.

"They talked to me," Frk said. "I pretty much understood what they were saying. I just tried to make sure I'm in good shape and I tried to practice with team and spend some time in the gym. I'm kind of glad it's finally happened. It just was frustrating a little bit. I tried not to show it. In the end, it's a great group of guys, they can play, you just got to go somewhere else, I guess."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Who���s spending Valentine���s Day with us tonight?! #LGRW pic.twitter.com/aOiWZGZl65

CHOLOWSKI SITS: Based upon the morning skate, it appears that rookie defenseman Dennis Cholowski will be the odd man out on the blue line for the second straight game.

Veteran Trevor Daley returned to the lineup in the 3-2 victory in Nashville Tuesday.

After recording four goals and eight assists in his first 22 games, Cholowski has two goals and one assist in his last 23 games. He has not recorded a point in his last eight games.

"As the defense got healthy, I had the opportunity to make decisions on who we felt should be in there," Blashill said." I think one of the things Cholo has had to learn is how to continue to get better on the defensive side of the puck. It's a hard league to outscore your mistakes. I think he has improved in certain areas.

"Points are part of it. We want to certainly drive some offense from the back end but you have to be efficient and great when you're defending and it's just something he'll continue to learn and get better at. I think where he's at today is a great spot. I watched him 2-3 years ago, he's light years ahead of where he was then. He's come a long way in short period of time, he's just got to keep grinding."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: It���s Dennis Cholowski Bobblehead Night! First 7500 fans at @LCArena_Detroit for tonight���s game will receive one, courtesy of @meijer! #lgrw pic.twitter.com/oDkhVl0P8E

The Wings could opt to send Cholowski to Grand Rapids to play if he remains out of the lineup.

"I think that's a legitimate topic for discussion," Blashill said. "If he's not earning his way into the lineup here, then is he better off doing what (Filip) Hronek has done down there? It's helped Hronek's game a ton. From the beginning of the year until now, Fil Hronek's confidence is at an all-time high, he's about a point per game in the American League. I can't remember the last time we had a defenseman doing that. I watched him, it looks like he's an elite player in the league. I think it's worth a discussion with management to see if that's the right move."

BERTUZZI UPDATE: Forward Tyler Bertuzzi has not played since Jan. 22 at Edmonton due to an upper-body injury.

But Bertuzzi has practiced with the team, including Thursday's morning skate, and is close to returning.

"I anticipate him being ready for Saturday but the next two days got to be good," Blashill said.

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