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Notes: Howard to start first time in Philly

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Jimmy Howard makes a save on Philadelphia forward Jakub Voracek in the Red Wings' 5-2 win over the Flyers on Nov. 26, 2014. Howard stopped 24 shots in that game at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROITJimmy Howard has played in 30 different NHL cities – but not all of them.

A six-season veteran, Howard has played 329 games for the Red Wings, but he’s never played in Philadelphia.

The veteran goaltender will get to check-off the City of Brotherly Love from his list of league arenas when he starts against the Flyers in a Saturday matinee at Wells Fargo Center.

In October, Howard planned to start the last time the team went in to Philly, but coach Mike Babcock had other ideas, giving backup Jonas Gustavsson his second starting assignment of the season.

“I thought I was playing and then all the sudden I wasn’t,” Howard said, following Friday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena. “I’m excited. I can’t wait to get out there. … The only place I haven’t played in.”

Philadelphia represents the 31st city played in for Howard in the 30-team league. He also started a game at Philips Arena in Atlanta before the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg.

Having been a backup a few times in Philadelphia, Howard is well aware of the notorious fans and just how rough they are on visiting players. Four years ago Philly fans were voted the worst sports fans in America by GQ magazine. Perhaps someone on the voting committee had a long memory for the time football fans booed Santa Claus at an Eagles’ game.

So Howard knows what to expect Saturday.

“The fans are nuts, they take it to another level,” said Howard, who has a 2-2-0 record with a 3.29 goals-average average in four career games against the Flyers. “They never stop yelling at the opposing team. It makes for a great atmosphere, it’s fun. When their fans are into it, it makes it that much more fun to participate in the game.”

The Red Wings are desperate for a win. Losers of three of the last four games, Detroit needs points to stay close to Montreal and Tampa Bay while keeping Boston at arm’s length in the Atlantic Division standings.

Since returning from a six-game road trip when they went 4-1-1 last month, the Wings have gone 2-3-0 while looking out of sync at times.

“A little adversity never killed anybody but when you get it, you wanna get through it as fast as you can,” Babcock said. “You gotta be careful in this league what you wish for because you think you got things going good then the next thing you know, you don’t have them going so good. The bottom line is, there’s a fine line between winning and losing. We had ‘er going pretty good, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Now, we don’t have the same amount of energy and execution as we did. So you gotta be mentally strong and find a way to get it back. That responsibility lies on me and lies on the guys.”

If their current state wasn’t bad enough, the Wings are headed into a building that has been a black hole to them for the past 17 years. The Red Wings haven’t won a game in Philadelphia since they won the 1997 Stanley Cup, dropping nine straight games in regulation, beginning with a 6-1 loss on March 14, 1998.

“Well we haven’t won there in forever, so we’re due,” Babcock said. “We gotta play good and we need a win. Forget all those things, let’s go over there and have a nice meal today and let’s get ready to play tomorrow and play hard.”

The players are aware of the streak, Howard said, but they prefer not to over analyze it.

“You know about it just because it’s been so long,” he said. “We definitely know about it but it’s not something we think about, that’s for sure. It’s not something I think about. I’m looking forward to it, it’s my first time being able to play in Philly. I’m excited. I can’t wait for it.”

The Flyers, who are in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, are all but out of the playoff race. But tough games this week against Edmonton and Columbus is enough of a reminder not to take anyone lightly.

“They’re a good team,” Howard said. “I think they do a lot of their damage on the power play. We got to stay out of the box. Their top unit is really good, with (Claude) Giroux, (Wayne) Simmonds and (Jakub) Voracek up front there. It doesn’t matter who they have on the back end you know they’re going to be able to pound it. I think the key for us is staying out of the box.”

HELM UPDATE: Darren Helm skated again in practice on Friday. While he ruled himself out for Saturday’s game against the Flyers, he was more optimistic about his chances of playing Sunday in Pittsburgh.

“I’m going on the trip, but I probably won’t play tomorrow. I’ll get good skate in on Saturday and we’ll see how likely it is that I can play Sunday. Things are definitely moving in the right direction.”

Helm has been out since suffering a strained oblique muscle in his chest Feb. 28 at Nashville.

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