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Detroit — If this were a playoff game, and Jimmy Howard had a choice, yes, he would play.

"Most definitely," said Howard, dealing with a groin injury, after Tuesday's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena.

But Tuesday's game against the Sabres wasn't a playoff game. It's just one more game in late December. Petr Mzarek will start instead.

And with the NHL's three-day holiday break beginning Wednesday, Howard and the Red Wings felt an extra day off could only help, so Howard sat against the Sabres and is looking to play Saturday in Ottawa when the schedule resumes.

"Better to miss one game than try to force it and be out for three or four weeks," said Howard, who played one period Dec. 19 against the Islanders before being forced out with the groin issue. "It's just precautionary and we'll pick it up where we left off in Ottawa."

Howard skated the last two days and felt better each day.

"I haven't had any setbacks, that's comforting," Howard said.

Having three days off this week is a good thing for Howard, but there's also the side which says the goalie will not be facing any shots in practice and not be on the ice.

But Howard doesn't see it as a negative at all.

"I'll take the three days off like the rest of us," Howard said. "I had a good work day yesterday, another good day today., I'll come down and work out during the game (Tuesday), then just work out during the break.

"I'm going to get away from skating just like everyone else and just get ready for Christmas.

"The biggest thing is just letting it rest. It wasn't that serious. It was just a tweak, so just give it some rest. We have the Christmas break coming up here, and we'll get right back at it after the break."

Weiss returns

Stephen Weiss returned to the lineup after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury.

The fact Weiss was in the lineup was good news for the Red Wings, who need the offensive boost Weiss could provide but also the victories his presence has brought to the lineup.

Heading into Wednesday's game, the Red Wings had an 8-1-2 record with Weiss in the lineup.

Coincidence? The ever humble Weiss thought it was.

"I don't think it has much to do with me," Weiss said. "For whatever reason we got on a little bit of a hot streak there when I came back. Those things happen, whether I'm in the lineup or not in the lineup, or we're missing whoever. It's up to the rest of the guys to pull the boot straps and get it done.

"Sometimes you get hot and sometimes you struggle a bit. Right now we're struggling. Hopefully, I can add a little bit of a spark."

Weiss has been able to skate regularly these past few days, which will help in terms of conditioning.

Weiss feels his role doesn't change, no matter which line he's put on.

"Just get to the net and try to find loose pucks," Weiss said. "Get to the front of the net and hopefully bang some in."

Professional pride

Coach Mike Babcock isn't surprised by the recent upswing of the Sabres, who have moved out of the NHL's basement into more a competitive state.

"They just flat out stay with it and compete hard," Babcock said. "They're like most teams, there's not much separation (throughout the league)."

Babcock feels Sabres players are not playing with pride for their team but themselves.

"Every time you get on the ice, you're not only showcasing yourself for your coach and team, but you're showcasing for the other 29 teams. That's just the reality," Babcock said. "It's all about the team. But you have to do your part to help the team and your brand is your name."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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