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Wings' Howard is heating up

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Red Wings Gustav Nyquist (14) and Petr Mrazek congratulate goalie Jimmy Howard after he made 44 saves in Detroit's 3-1 win at Los Angeles last Saturday night. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – What is it about Jimmy Howard when he faces an extraordinarily heavy arsenal of shots in a game?

Fortunately, it hasn’t happened all that much in his career. The Red Wings’ goaltender now has a 9-3-5 all-time record – 2-2-1 this season – when opponents have fired 40-plus shots at him like the New York Rangers did Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Despite Howard’s 47-save effort, the Wing lost 1-0 to the Rangers as their neminder, Henrik Lundqvist, made 38 stops.

“I know he’s playing well now,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of Howard. “Ever since the Dallas game he’s kind of had it going. He struggled on a couple in San Jose but he’s played real well and the bottom line is for us to have success with the group we have we need him to be on top of his game.”

Although he’s played through a sore hip flexor lately, Howard has produced a 2-2-1 mark with a 1.91 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in five starts this month. In his previous 22 games, Howard struggled to a 6-9-7 record with a 2.76 GAA and .906 save percentage.

With numerous injuries currently plaguing the Red Wings’ roster, it’s easily understandable why Howard has been busier this month. He is facing nearly nine more shots per game this month, which is better than seeing nine less, Howard said.

“Those are the hardest games you can play in because you’re sitting back there and all of a sudden you’re trying not to become a spectator,” said Howard, who was named to USA Hockey’s Olympic roster this month. “When you see that many saves people usually say, ‘Well, you only saw 14 or 15 shots on the night.’ Well, those are usually the hardest.”

Captain Henrik Zetterberg didn’t know what to make of Howard’s increase work load when he was asked about it following Friday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena.

“Maybe he likes to see more shots,” Zetterberg said, laughing. “We’re always trying to get less shots against us but maybe we shouldn’t.”

Howard has a stellar career track record, compiling three straight 35-win seasons for the Red Wings, who know they need him if they are to stretch their franchise playoff streak to 23 straight seasons this spring.

“He’s been a world-class goalie for us for a number of years,” Babcock said. “He had a tough first half but he’s going now and we need to ride him.”

The Red Wings will definitely need Howard to be at his best in the next week with a foursome of playoff-contenders – the Kings, Blues, Blackhawks and Canadiens – coming to town in the next seven days. But Howard says he’s up for the challenge, beginning Saturday when he’ll start against the Kings’ Jonathan Quick.

“To me it doesn’t matter who is playing on the other end,” said Howard, who made 44 saves in a 3-1 win at Los Angeles last Saturday. “You always want to out-battle him and out-compete him to get your team a W. Tomorrow is another great shot here with Quicky coming to town; he’s a great goalie and it’s going to take another great effort from all of us.”

While Howard downplayed Saturday’s head-to-head match up with his Olympic teammate, Zetterberg believes there’s something to it.

“You always want to be better than the guy across from you and for Howie he is a good goalie and I think he’s playing real well,” the Wings’ captain said. “Important games are obviously easy to get up for and Howie seems that he plays better when a lot of stuff is on the line.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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