Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill talks about Petr Mrazek's track record against the Lightning. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Detroit — This makes the task that much tougher.
The Detroit Red Wings are going to face the team with the NHL’s best record, Tampa Bay, Sunday without goaltender Jimmy Howard.
Coach Jeff Blashill said Howard is out for Sunday’s game with a lower-body injury.
Blashill is calling the injury day-to-day, and with the Red Wings off for five days after Sunday’s game, the injury and schedule come at a good time.
But Blashill isn’t quite sure Howard will be ready when the Red Wings resume their schedule next weekend.
“I don’t have that answer,” Blashill said as to whether Howard would be ready when the bye ends. “All I know right now is he is out (Sunday) and let’s see where it goes. I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term thing, but I don’t know.”
The Red Wings will recall a goaltender from Grand Rapids Sunday to back up Petr Mrazek.
Dylan Larkin talks about the Red Wings' matchup against the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Howard, who has been arguably the Red Wings’ best player during their current four-game winning streak — he has stopped 145 of 153 shots (.948 save percentage) — was hurt in the second period of Friday’s 4-2 victory over Florida.
“He was able to finish the game,” Blashill said. “He tried to skate this morning and couldn’t do everything he wanted to do be comfortable to play.”
Blashill said no tests have been scheduled at this time to test the severity of the injury.
Sunday’s game will be Mrazek’s first since he defeated the New York Islanders Dec. 19.
Mrazek has only played 11 games this season, with a 3.64 goal-against average and .892 save percentage.
“Pete has had some great games against Tampa in his time here,” Blashill said. “He’s certainly had some good ones going back to the playoffs (in 2015, 2016). He’s worked hard to put himself in position to be ready and now he has to go out and play well.”
The Lightning have defeated the Red Wings nine consecutive games and 13 of the last 14 (including playoffs).
“We’ve played well them but obviously not good enough,” Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin said. “It’s an emotional game, a rivalry. We have to control our emotions and not give them opportunities.
“We haven’t beat these guys. When we are playing well we can be right there with the best of them.”
Forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Tatar didn’t skate Saturday but Blashill expects both of them to be available to play against the Tampa.
… With his 600th career assist Friday, Zetterberg became the sixth Red Wings player to reach that number and 85th in NHL history.
Zetterberg is now 68 points shy of 1,000 in his career.
Zetterberg, incidentally, has 11 points (1 goal, 10 assists) in his last 11 games.
“Anytime Hank gets a milestone it’s a good chance for us all to celebrate what an unbelievable winner he’s been,” Blashill said. “Within his time frame in the NHL there aren’t many better two-way players in the league, and what a two-way player is in the end is a winner.
“He’s had a lot of points but he could have had more if he had cheated and we wouldn’t have won in this organization as much. He’s always played the game the right way.”
Lightning at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7 p.m., Sunday, Little Caesars Arena
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Lightning (29-8-3) will enter the game with the NHL’s most points. … RW Nikita Kucherov (26 goals), C Steven Stamkos (33 assists) and G Andrei Vasilevskiy (.939 save percentage) headline a deep, talented roster.