Vanek out, Howard starts for Wings vs. Bruins

Gregg Krupa, The Detroit News
Jimmy Howard

Detroit – Thomas Vanek, whose hot start helped the Red Wings take flight early this season, will remain out of the lineup Saturday night against the Bruins and the hot Jimmy Howard will start in goal (7 p.m., FSD, 97.1 FM).

The Bruins (3-4-0) may get a welcome reinforcement, with their starting goalie Tuukka Rask likely returning to the lineup for the first time since Oct. 20 against the Devils. Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban have had some difficulty in goal for the Bruins over the last three games.

The Bruins said that unless something unexpected pops up this afternoon, Rask will go.

But the banged-up Boston club will play without some key players: the forwards Patrice Bergeron and David Backes and Rask’s backup, Anton Khudobin.

The second leading scorer for the Bruins, David Pastrnak (five goals, three assists) is suspended for an illegal body-check.

Meanwhile, the forward Brad Marchand, who signed an eight-year, $49 million contract extension in the offseason, if off to a blistering start with three goals and seven assists.

The hot Wings have generated a six-game win streak with high shooting and save percentages, and Howard and Petr Mrazek have arguably provided a chance to win all eight games so far this season, including some outstanding efforts.

“In order to be an elite team in this league, you’ve have to get elite goaltending,” said coach Jeff Blashill. “Look across the league, whether it’s Carey Price in Montreal, whether it’s what (Ben) Bishop’s done in Tampa, whether it’s been, through the years, what (Jonathan) Quick’s done in L.A., Corey Crawford’s been elite.

“So, we’re no different from that. … And I think we’ve gotten that so far this year.”

Wings far from perfect despite win streak

But it is a team effort on defense, and with a defensive corps that has performed mostly better than expected, so far, the Red Wings hope to continue helping their goalies.

“I think or D-zone coverage has been much better over the course of the last six games than it was in the first two, and much better than it was at times last year,” Blashill said. “And that helps.”

The defense is improved, so far, under a new coach who spent a decade behind the Bruins’ bench and an assistant in charge of their defensemen, the one-time Wings’ defenseman Doug Houda.

“Well, he doesn’t do much for our hair quantity, behind the bench,” the balding Blashill joked about the balding Houda, when asked about the Red Wings’ new coach.

“Doug’s been great. We lost a great, great coach in Tony Granato. Doug’s done a really good job. He’s both a great person, and a really great coach.

“His detail defensively -- he’s helped our D-men, he’s helped shape the way we want to play D-zone.

“I wanted to make a change, and I think he’s really helped us with the little details in order to help make that change and to keep our D a little bit more accountable at the net-front.

“He does a real good job on the penalty kill. He’s a real bright guy.”