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Notes: Wings happy to see Howard skating before practice

Veteran netminder had back issues during warmups Tuesday but likely to back up Bernier Thursday

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

RALEIGH -- It was a happy sight for the Red Wings before practice started at Raleigh Center Ice Wednesday afternoon.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard, who had his back seize up during warmups in Philadelphia Tuesday and couldn't play, was skating with goalie coach Jeff Salajko.

Tweet from @Dwakiji: #RedWings Howard working with goalie coach Jeff Salajko before practice.

Although he skated on his own and did not practice with the team, Howard was pleased with his rapid progress.

"Surprisingly, real well," Howard said. "Was able to get treatment last night after my back locked up and then again this morning. Everything cleared and released, so skated for 18-20 minutes before the guys got out there, didn't have any issues, so hopefully I don't have any more this evening and I'm good to go tomorrow for the pregame skate."

Howard said the Wings were able to get Howard immediate treatment after warmups that enabled him to skate Wednesday afternoon.

"It was a huge relief that they were able to release it last night because they probably wouldn't have been able to do much this morning," Howard said. "My back probably still would have been in spasms. I was able to go see a chiropractor here this morning and he released again, so hopefully it continues movement and properly function."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill was pleased to see Howard back on the ice so quickly.

"That's what I thought but you never know," Blashill said. "Certainly he said he feels much better today. Whoever he saw today really helped him and last night. So our training staff in getting the right people did an excellent job. It sounds like at the very least he'd be close to backing up tomorrow and probably ready to play a game a soon as Saturday hopefully, so that's great."

Howard's teammates were also glad that Howard appeared to be doing better.

"That's definitely a good feeling," Andreas Athanasiou said. "You never want to see a goalie that's ready to play go down in warmup but it's good to see him back up today and feeling better."

The Wings had a local goaltender fill in for Howard during practice.

Tweet from @Dwakiji: Not sure who the local goalie is, helping #RedWings in practice today.

"Otherwise, (Jonathan Bernier's) getting bag skated after playing a tough game last night, so it was good to have him in here," Blashill said.

Howard said while he did not think he could play Thursday, he believes he'll be able to back up Bernier, who started in his stead against the Flyers.

Blashill said he would discuss it with the training staff before deciding if they need to call a goaltender up from Grand Rapids.

"If what I heard (Howard) say is accurate in talking to the training staff, we'll probably have him back up," Blashill said. "That's what my gut is today, but we'll know that by the time I leave the rink here today."

FULL PRACTICE DESPITE GLASS ISSUES: Before practice got underway Wednesday, an unnamed player's shot shattered the glass behind one of the nets.

Wings staff pitched in to help with cleanup and the coaching staff modified one of the drills but other than that, it was practice as usual.

"We improvised," Blashill said. "A lot of what we were going to do was basically - all the drills, except for the first one, was what we were going to do. We just had to do it one way. It just takes a bit longer, but other than that, it was exactly what we were going to do."

OFFENSIVE SLUMP: During their four-game winless stretch, the Wings have had trouble getting the puck out of their own zone.

That has contributed to an offensive slump for several players.

"I would tell you that we've given up way too many chances in the last 10 games, and if you give up that many chances, you're not going to win," Blashill said. "One specific area that we obviously worked lots on today was D-zone and just being faster there. We've been too slow, so we spend too much time and that wrecks your offense, because then you're basically just getting it out to change. We gotta do a better job of closing, having more pressure and winning battles."

Although Athanasiou is second on the team in goals with 11, he hasn't scored in the last 10 games.

"I've had a couple of breakaways. I think the chances are still there," Athanasiou said. "The one game at the end I probably should have shot to tie it up there. But sometimes pucks don't go your way. Probably overshooting it would be the best option right now. I think anytime things aren't going your way, the best bet is just put the puck on the net. Don't force too many plays. Once they start going in you can start going in there and making the plays, but it is what it is."

Rookie Michael Rasmussen hasn't scored a goal since Nov. 17 at New Jersey, a span of 15 games, but Blashill said he isn't worried about the youngster.

"I think his game's been pretty good, to be honest with you," Blashill said. "I'm not concerned. He's gonna ebb and flow a little bit. He adds stuff even when he's not scoring. I've been okay with him."

While Athanasiou and Rasmussen aren't the only players who aren't scoring at the moment, the solution remains the same for all of them.

"For sure the only way to work yourself out of it is one, to work," Blashill said. "You have to work and two, you can't cheat for offense. Those two things I know 100 percent. Sometimes, guys stop working and a lot of times they start cheating for offense. That usually leads to playing more defense. So you gotta make sure that you're checking for your chances, you're playing great defense. If you do that, you'll end up having the offensive side of the puck go your way. The season is going to ebb and flow, but certainly we gotta make sure guys dig in a little bit, guys that are struggling."

One player who is not struggling offensively is Dylan Larkin, who had an assist in the 3-2 loss to the Flyers, extending his point streak to eight games. He has four goals and seven assists in that span.

Larkin had to leave practice briefly Wednesday but was able to return. "He came back out, so I'm assuming it's a bump or a bruise, based on the fact he came back out and said he was fine," Blashill said.

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