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Traverse City — Jimmy Howard is ready to get back to a normal season.

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The NHL hasn't offered one to the Red Wings the last two seasons, what with the lockout shortening the 2012-13 season, then the Olympics tightening everything last season.

"It's tough when you're playing every single night and trying to find that practice time," Howard said. "That was a little different. But it's nice to be back to a normal season. We haven't played one in a while, and I'm excited for it."

Howard also wouldn't mind having a Jimmy Howard-type of normal season statistically and in the victories column, too.

Howard was 21-19-11 with a .910 save percentage and 2.66 goals-against average, only played 51 games because of injuries, and missed the final two games of the first-round playoffs loss to Boston because of illness.

What bothered Howard most about his season?

"The inconsistency," Howard said.

"From night in to night out, it wasn't up to my standards. I set the bar pretty high for myself and I want to push that a little higher each year.

"I'm very excited. I can't wait. Like I've told you guys, this is the best I've felt in two or three years heading into training camp. I'm excited to get going."

Nobody likes seeing their season end, but one slight positive for the Red Wings is that they had four months to rest and rehabilitate, which could prove a positive.

"There's a lot of us who were banged up and trying to play through a lot of stuff," Howard said.

First exhibition

Howard will get the start tonight in Pittsburgh for the exhibition opener, playing the first two periods while Petr Mrazek plays the third. (Jonas Gustavsson will play two periods in Chicago Tuesday, with Mrazek playing the third).

The interesting aspect of tonight's lineup is that all four young defense prospects will be in the lineup against the Penguins.

Xavier Ouellet will be paired with Alexey Marchenko, while Mattias Backman and Ryan Sproul are also paired in the lineup.

Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson are listed as the top pairing.

"I'm hoping Ouellet, Marchenko, Backman and Sproul have a chance to push for jobs," coach Mike Babcock said. "That's up to them. We're going to watch eight exhibition games and see how they do."

Up front, against the Penguins, the Red Wings will have Darren Helm-Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Tatar; Tomas Jurco-Riley Sheahan-Daniel Cleary; Drew Miller-Joakim Andersson-Martin Frk; Jeff Hoggan-Andreas Athanasiou-Colin Campbell.

Tough start

Forward Andy Miele (Grosse Pointe North), signed over the summer as a free agent, has yet to get on the ice.

Miele, 26, is likely several weeks away from joining Grand Rapids because of sports hernia surgery.

Last season Miele played seven games with Phoenix (two assists), while spending most of the season in the minors.

"Obviously it's very exciting," Miele said of his return home. "I grew up watching the Red Wings and to be part of this, it's been a great expeience. I'm just excited to get out there and help out whatever way I can."

Miele (5-foot-8, 175-pounds) was the 2011 Hobey Baker Award winner while at Miami (Ohio).

Ice chips

Team White defeated Team Red 3-2 in a shootout in Sunday's scrimmage. Luke Glendening and Johan Franzen scored for the Red, Joakim Andersson and Hayden Hodgson for the White.

... Another sellout crowd of 1,200 attended Sunday's game, matching the big crowds the last two days and extending to last weekend's prospects tournament.

…Babcock needed five stitches on his thumb after getting cut during Saturday's alumni/celebrity game.

...There will be split squads Monday and Tuesday, with the non-traveling team working out at Centre Ice Arena. The traveling team will have a morning skate, then fly out in the afternoon.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

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