Wings’ Howard vows to ‘just work’ to shake funk

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (35) is bumped by the Jets' Andrew Ladd during the first period Tuesday in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Winnipeg, Manitoba — Goalie Jimmy Howard stood by his locker at MTS Centre and searched for answers.

Tuesday was another disappointment, the second consecutive time Howard was pulled from a game.

The Red Wings lost 4-1, and although Howard’s performance wasn’t the sole reason for the defeat, it certainly didn’t help.

In an extremely tight division and conference race for the playoffs, every point is crucial. And if Howard doesn’t right himself soon, what has been a combination of Howard and Petr Mrazek sharing the net will likely become Mrazek getting the majority of playing time.

Howard vowed to work himself out of this slump.

“Just work,” said Howard, as reporters gathered around his locker. “That’s the only way I know, the only way I’ve been taught my whole life. Just put in the time and effort and good things will happen to you.”

Things had been going well for the veteran goaltender until the last two ghastly starts.

Howard (7-5-4, 2.66 goals-against average, .910 save percentage) allowed three goals on six shots Dec. 22 against New Jersey, and was replaced by Mrazek (11-7-3, 2.23 GAA, .927 SVS) in what was a 4-3 loss to the Devils.

Then Tuesday, with the Red Wings in need of a win after a lackluster loss the night before in Minnesota, Howard allowed a shorthanded goal early in the first period.

Red Wings send Tangradi back to Grand Rapids

Howard hasn’t earned a victory since Dec. 3 against Arizona, a stretch of five games.

“Nobody is going to feel sorry for me,” Howard said. “I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m just going to continue to work hard and I’ll continue to bring a positive attitude to the rink every day.

“Just continue to work. When your number is called, you have to go out and perform.”

Howard was pulled after allowing Jacob Trouba’s (Rochester/Michigan) second goal in the second period, having allowed four goals on 14 shots for the evening.

“I wasn’t good enough for the guys,” Howard said. “It’s unacceptable.”

Blashill didn’t discuss his goalie rotation or his immediate plans after the game.

It’s likely Mrazek will start today’s game against Pittsburgh, but who’ll start Saturday in Buffalo and Monday in New Jersey hasn’t been announced.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see Mrazek start all three.

Blashill was confident Howard will work himself out of his current problems.

“You just have to continue to grind,” Blashill said. “You keep working on your game and the next opportunity you have, gain confidence by stopping pucks.

“I’m not worried about Jimmy, he’ll be just fine in the long run.

“But obviously we need to get some wins.”

Howard didn’t get much luck in Tuesday’s loss.

The third Jets goal, by Alexander Burmistrov, deflected off a stick and flew past Howard, while Trouba’s second goal was through a forest of bodies in front of Howard, who never saw the puck.

“But still not an excuse,” said Howard of those two particular goals. “When you’re in there, especially where the shot came from, you’ve still got to be able to pick it up.”

Teammates supported Howard, while taking their share of the blame for another disheartening loss.

“We stand behind him (Howard), it’s not his fault,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Everyone is together. He’ll be fine the next time he plays.”

Defenseman Brendan Smith feels the Red Wings are allowing too “many high-quality (scoring) opportunities.

“We have to help Jimmy out because Jimmy has been helping us out.” Smith said. “He’s been fantastic this year. To help our teammate get back to where we want to be, we all have to play better.

“We’re a team and that’s how you get to the next level.”

Penguins at Red Wings

Faceoff: 6 p.m. Thursday, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The two former Stanley Cup rivals meet for the first time this season. … The Penguins have a new coach (Mike Sullivan), firing Mike Johnston during a 3-6-1 freefall. … Not having G Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) isn’t helping matters.