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Wings will start Howard tonight against Rangers

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Goalie Jimmy Howard has three years left on his contract with a salary cap hit just under $5.3 million.

New York — Jimmy Howard has always enjoyed playing against the New York Rangers and at Madison Square Garden.

He will get the chance Wednesday, his first start of the season, as the Red Wings face the Rangers at 8 p.m. (NBCSN).

Coach Jeff Blashill felt the time was right to get Howard game action, after Petr Mrazek began the season with three consecutive starts.

Howard is excited to get his season going.

“Definitely, we all want to play in here,” said Howard, who began this season as the back up to Mrazek. “This is an opportunity and now you just go out there and play and enjoy it.

“It’s great to get an opportunity. It’s been a week and a half now, and I’ve been putting in a lot of great work in practice. Now I’m looking forward to getting out there and showing it in a game.”

Howard has had some memorable and outstanding games against the Rangers in his career.

Howard is 4-3-2 in his career against the Rangers, but with a superb 1.76 goals-against average and a stingy .949 save percentage.

A native of upstate New York, Howard was a Rangers fan while growing up.

Further, Howard’s favorite goalie was Rangers legend Mike Richter.

So the chances to play at Madison Square Garden, on the ice Richter starred on with those Rangers teams, is an exciting opportunity even now for the veteran Howard.

“It stems from my childhood,” said Howard of his fondness for Madison Square Garden. “Growing up in New York, being a huge Rangers fans, huge Mike Richter fan, I just love playing here.”

Unlike last season, where Mrazek and Howard essentially played evenly until Mrazek gradually won the starting job in late December, there is no such competition this season.

Mrazek was the clear-cut starter coming into the season and Howard the back up.

So the time in practice — and during the exhibition season –—has been valuable for Howard to fine-tune his game and get as sharp on the ice as possible.

“I’m trying to be a lot more quieter in net, not as aggressive,” said Howard, of the things he’s been working on in anticipation of playing. “Picking my moments, reading the play on when to be aggressive, when to hang back. It’ll continue to be a work in progress. I’m just going to continue to work on it and hopefully it transfers over.”

With the condensed schedule, and teams essentially playing every other night, it’s likely few goalies in the NHL will play over 60 games this season.

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So, it’s important for any team, said Blashill, to have two elite goalies giving a team an opportunity to win every night.

Blashill didn’t go into specifics as to why the time was right for Howard to play, other than there were multiple factors.

“There’s multiple things that go into our decision making progress,” Blashill said. “Ultimately we decided this was a good time to get Jimmy a start.

“There are multiple things that sometimes factor into it. The success a goalie has had factors into it, sometimes it’s the way the schedule sets up. Certainly Jimmy has played here and likes playing here and has had success here.

“That’s all a factor but not the deciding factor. We felt it was the right move to make.”

Howard agrees the schedule this season will make it mandatory that two goalies are ready to play and have success.

“You need both guys kicking throughout the season,” Howard said. “Points are at a premium (in the standings). They mean so much. It’s imperative both guys are going."

Ted.Kulfan@detroitnews.com