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Wings defend besieged teammate

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Danny DeKeyser said the Red Wings need to tighten up defensively in front of their own net. Detroit has given up 11 goals in the last two games. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT Danny DeKeyser grew up in this town.

He knows the passion that fans have for the Red Wings, Tigers and Lions.

The Wings’ defenseman also understands the constant scrutiny – fair or not – that comes with playing high-profile positions like goalie, closer and quarterback of Detroit’s professional sports teams.

“In this town, quarterbacks and goalies probably get the most of it,” DeKeyser said. “Though (Tigers) Joe Nathan, the closer, and Jose Valverde when he was here, gets a lot of blame. Those are three positions that get too much of the heat when things go bad.”

This week, DeKeyser’s teammate, goalie Jimmy Howard, has endured criticism for giving up a combined eight goals in four-plus periods to Arizona and San Jose, two teams that are headed to the golf course, instead of the playoffs.

While it may not be completely fair that the 31-year-old goaltender shoulders all the blame for the team’s recent struggles, DeKeyser said the team – defensemen and forwards – must do a better job of supporting whoever is playing between the pipes.

“We haven’t been playing well in front of him, but the other side of that is there are some bad bounces,” DeKeyser said. “You saw one go off of Andy’s skate the other night. There’s not much you can do about that, it’s just a bad break. It seems like we’ve had a lot of those.”

Bad breaks aside, it’s mistakes made by everyone – not just Howard – that are causing more than superficial wounds for a team trying to reach their goal of reaching the playoffs for a 24th consecutive season.

“It’s not all on him,” forward Darren Helm said. “We’re giving up too many chances. The good thing about Jimmy is he’s going to come and play; it’s just a matter of time. Right now he’s going through a little stretch like the whole team is going through it. We have to find a way to battle hard through it and get ourselves back on track.”

Despite bad luck and 23 total giveaways in the past two games, Howard admitted Friday that at times he hasn’t been comfortable tracking pucks. Since returning from a groin injury, Howard has posted a 5-5-3 record with a 3.14 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. Prior to the injury, he was 15-7-7 with a 2.11 GAA and .920 save percentage.

Desperate for a win, coach Mike Babcock is starting rookie Petr Mrazek this afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Joe Louis Arena. This marks the fourth and final meeting of the season between these Atlantic Division rivals; the Lightning has won the first three and seven of the past eight contests dating to Nov. 9, 2013.

“They’ve had our number for the last two years for the most part,” DeKeyser said. “They’re a good team. They play with a lot of speed. We struggled against them with a lot of the games being really tight, a couple shootouts and a couple one-goal games, but they play hard and they find a way to pull out those games in close ones. We need to just get a win.”

In order to do that against the second-place Lightning, who are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, the Wings will need a better defensive effort in front of their goalie.

“Our mistakes now are ending up in the back of our net,” DeKeyser said. “It’s something that we want to change. When you make mistakes like that and the goalie bails you out for half the season a lot of times it will add up, and it’s kind of adding up right now. We’re making too many mistakes, too many turnovers, just not making very good passes out of our own zone.

“We have to play better in front of them. We need to take care of the puck more. That’s the biggest thing. When we’re turning the puck over it’s leading to chances and now it’s leading to goals. That’s the biggest thing, just taking care of the puck, especially in our D zone.”

The good thing about the Wings’ mistakes is that they’re fixable.

“We have great goaltending here,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It’s a matter of doing it together. You win as a team and you lose as a team. That’s how it works.”

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