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Howard was great but Wings have to be ‘much better’

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Jimmy Howard takes a break during the win over the Rangers.

Detroit – They won, goaltender Jimmy Howard was outstanding, but the Detroit Red Wings realize they must play much better than they did Wednesday.

The 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers was all about Howard, who probably deserved to be all three stars after the game.

After taking Thursday off, the Red Wings host Nashville Friday and San Jose Saturday knowing they have to clean up their act.

“We have to be better, much better than that, to have long-term success,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Luckily for us, Jimmy was great. We can learn lessons from a victory.”

Blashill pinpoints the major problems rather easily.

“For me, it was simply winning battles and turnovers,” Blashill said. “We have to be better in those areas.”

The number of turnovers, particularly in the defensive and neutral zones, have led to a long list of scoring chances for opponents.

“We have to learn to be a team that plays north for 60 minutes, that gets behind (the opposing defense) and attacks,” Blashill said.

Howard bailed out the Red Wings on approximately six Rangers breakaway attempts, a combination of Red Wings turnovers and not being able to consistently handle New York’s speed.

The Red Wings did a better job in the third period, but the memories of all those Rangers skating in on Howard left a mark.

“Without him, we don’t win this one,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We can’t play like this if we want to win. We’re happy we got the two points but we have a lot of work to do.”

Said Drew Miller: “The message after the game was we weren’t good enough.”

Howard’s approach

Howard understands he’s the backup to Petr Mrazek but believes he’s better equipped to handle the role this season.

“Let’s be honest, right now Pete’s the No. 1 (but) I know how to handle the situation a lot better,” Howard said. “Last year I didn’t quite understand how to be the backup. I’d never been in (that situation) before. I fully understand the role now – how to be mentally sharp between starts.”

Blashill appreciates the way Howard has approached this season.

“Jimmy Howard has been great in terms of his mental approach,” Blashill said. “His focus is on getting better every single day. He’s worked real hard with Jeff Salajko (goaltending coach), and his game was in a spot where when he was called upon, he was great.”

Teammates weren’t surprised by Howard’s performance Wednesday.

“Right now he’s not the No. 1 but when he gets his games, he wants to play hard and contribute,” Miller said. “He was the difference-maker (Wednesday) and that’s what we need from both of our goalies.

“Howie’s going to be big for us this season and we’re counting on both of our goalies.”

Practice vs. rest

Blashill has mentioned on several occasions this season the balance between rest and practicing will be critical in this condensed regular season.

“That’s the big challenge in the NHL,” Blashill said. “It’s getting that practice time in against rest and being energized for games. The No. 1 thing is the players need to be energized for games. But when you don’t practice, you lose your structure.

“You want them energized for games but maintain the structure, and that’s the delicate process we have to go through all season.”

Miller and Glendening

Miller’s goal, after Luke Glendening stripped Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the puck behind the net, was the kind of hard-working goal Blashill wants to see from that line (with either Andreas Athanasiou or Steve Ott).

“They have enough ability to score those goals for sure,” Blashill said. “They’re a grinding twosome and do a great job of that for sure.”

Predators at Red Wings

Faceoff: Friday, 7:30 p.m., Joe Louis Arena.

TV / radio: Fox Sports Detroit / 97.1 The Ticket.

Notable: The Predators are 1-2-0 to begin the season and have been held to seven goals in those three games..D P.K. Subban will be closely watched this season, after having been acquired in the off-season…G Pekka Rinne continues to rank among the NHL’s elite.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter @tkulfan