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Notes: Red Wings ready for hot Calgary Flames

Henrik Zetterberg remains a force at age 36; Jimmy Howard set for conditioning stint with Griffins

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

CALGARY - The Red Wings and Calgary Flames were in similar spots the last time they met.

After the Flames won 3-2 at Joe Louis Arena on Nov. 20, they were 8-11-1 while the Wings were 8-10-1.

Now the Wings are last in the Eastern Conference with 60 points in 61 games while the Flames hold the first wild card spot in the Western Conference with 72 points in 64 games.

The Flames have won their last five games.

"Glen's (Flames coach Glen Gulutzan) got them playing real good hockey," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "They get pucks behind, they're committed to getting pucks behind, getting on the forecheck and getting in the O-zone. They've got a real good D corps that looks like it's playing at a real high level right now. I think probably if you asked around here, the big thing is that they've gotten real good goaltending here in the last stretch. I talked to (Canucks coach) Willie Desjardins before the Vancouver game and he said he thinks Calgary is playing as good as anybody in the west, he thinks they're an excellent team. What I've seen, I certainly believe it."

Calgary goaltender Brian Elliott is 8-1-1 with a 2.20 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in his last 10 starts.

"They're a strong team," Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "They've got four good lines. They have a strong skating D as well. We have to be sharp for tonight. It's a tough building to come from behind in, so we have to be good from the start and just focus on what we do best. If we play good hockey, we're a good team. That's probably been our biggest problem this year, our inconsistency. I thought we had a decent game coming out of the break and we've just got to build on that."

The Flames have 10 players with 10 or more goals and they have gotten a lot of offensive production from their blue line.

Calgary's defensemen have 132 points this season while Detroit's have 68.

ZETTERBERG A FORCE: Zetterberg has 48 points in 61 games this season, just two points shy of the 50 he had in 82 games this season.

"He's probably one of the best competitors I've ever been around in my life." Blashill said. "His competitive desire is unreal. It's not an outwardly competitiveness where he's real emotional. It's just his ability to grind - I believe we'll make the playoffs because of Henrik Zetterberg, you want to know the truth. He's one of the best, I'll call it, competitors I think that's in the game. He's got great hockey smarts, he's got great strength on the puck but what separates him from everybody else is his competitiveness and his approach every single day."

As usual, Zetterberg deflects the credit he is given for his production.

"It's harder, and luckier probably," Zetterberg said. "I think too, the young kids I have along with me makes me younger and quicker. I think that's probably been one of the reasons so far. Playing with (Anthony) Mantha and (Gustav) Nyquist and now (Tomas) Tatar, I thought we've had good chemistry for awhile, so that helps."

Zetterberg has rebounded nicely from the back surgery he had three years ago.

Last season Zetterberg did not like his second half when he had just 17 points in his final 33 games.

This year Zetterberg has been the team's most consistent player.

"I take it game by game," Zetterberg said. "We talked about it last year, that I had a terrible ending of the season. It was something that I wanted to change for this year and so far it's been OK. We've still got 20 games to play and it's a big 20 games for us."

SHEAHAN STILL A WING: Riley Sheahan had heard his name mentioned in trade rumors as the deadline approached but kept his focus on the present.

"You see your name out there but you try not to pay attention to it," Sheahan said." Obviously, you don't have that inside information, you don't really know what's going on. Obviously, this is the place I want to be. I made a lot of good friends here. It would be hard to leave this place. So, it was nice that it ended. I'm happy to be here and looking forward to the game tonight."

Sheahan has taken the spot vacated by Thomas Vanek on a line with Frans Nielsen and Andreas Athanasiou.

"Stay poised in the O-zone and those guys and those guys are great offensive players and just be smart and try to create some room for them, because I think if you give them room they can skate, they're pretty talented offensively, so just got to be sound in the D-zone and it'll lead to some offensive opportunities," Sheahan said.

Vanek, Steve Ott, Brendan Smith and Tomas Jurco were all traded to other teams.

"It's tough," Sheahan said. "Those are some good guys. Made friends with them. It's going to be weird seeing them put different jerseys on and playing against them. Hopefully they do well in the future and we wish them all the best."

HOWARD HEADING OUT: Goaltender Jimmy Howard practiced with the Wings during Friday's morning skate and is ready for a game with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

"Jimmy Howard will go down on a conditioning stint," Blashill said. "He's going to fly out here tonight and he's going to play on Saturday. We'll take it day by day but certainly we'd have the availability to play him again on Tuesday."

Howard injured his knee on Dec. 20 in Tampa. He played in two rehabilitation starts with the Griffins on Feb. 8 and 10 but had to leave in the middle of the third period in the second game when he felt a tweak in his knee.

Howard returned to the Wings for rehabilitation work and had to clear a last hurdle before he was ready to play in a game.

"Just some movements where you're leaning on the MCL and where the joint line is, just trying to eliminate the pain from there," Howard said.

Howard will play Saturday at the Texas Stars and is likely to play Tuesday at the San Antonio Rampage.

"It's been difficult, it's been frustrating," Howard said. "I tried to stay as positive as possible and I've been given this time to do a lot of one on one stuff with coach (Jeff) Salajko and just try to fine tweak some things."

Howard's goal remains to return and play for the Wings this season.

"It really is important," Howard said. "Nobody wants to be out this long. It's the hand I've been dealt, try to deal with it best as possible, in the most positive ways, and now just looking forward to getting back out there and playing."

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