Wings’ Coreau heads to GR; Howard still on mend

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings sent Jared Coreau to Grand Rapids on Wednesday for a conditioning stint, and Jimmy Howard’s return to the lineup is further delayed because of difficulty recovering from his knee injury.

As planned, Coreau is to return Monday after the Wings’ five-day bye.

Howard’s return the lineup remains unscheduled after spraining a knee ligament Dec. 20 when he was performing as well as he has during his eight seasons.

“We’re going to send Coreau down on a conditioning stint, because he’ll be able to play,” coach Jeff Blashill said Tuesday night after a 3-1 loss to the Islanders.

Getting Coreau some work is important. The 25-year-old has not played since Feb. 12 and has not had consecutive starts since Jan. 24.

A former Northern Michigan goalie, signed by the Red Wings as a free agent in April 2013, he has a 3.27 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage.

Red Wings hit their bye week, for better or worse

He got points in eight of 10 starts between Dec. 23 to Jan. 24, including two shutouts.

But Coreau yielded 10 goals on 54 shots in his last two starts, Jan. 31 against the Devils and Feb. 12 against the Wild.

The Griffins, who lead the Central Division of the AHL, play Milwaukee on Friday and Saturday in Grand Rapids on Friday. The 6-foot-6 goaltender, in his fourth professional season, played 17 games with Grand Rapids this season, with a 2.18 GAA and .924 save percentage.

Howard’s injury, a sprained medial collateral ligament, can be tricky for goalies.

Expected on Dec. 20 to return in four to six weeks, Howard’s recovery is entering a 10th week.

“Jimmy, right now, will go on break, and he hasn’t made as much progress as we wanted him to,” Blashill said Tuesday. “He still can’t do certain things in the butterfly position.

“It’s a tough injury for a goalie. It’s obviously the same injury, or to a large degree a similar injury, to what kept Carey Price out most of last year,” he said of the Canadiens’ netminder.

Like many things for the Wings this season, goaltending did not work out as planned.

Investing nearly $10 million in the position, about 14 percent of the salary cap, they hoped the goalies would help remedy the defensive weaknesses of the lineup and the propensity of the team to spend lots of time in its own zone.

But Petr Mrazek struggled early on and only recently has performed close to the top level he displayed in the middle of last season. And while Howard was brilliant, playing as well as he has in his Red Wings’ career, he got hurt in a crease crash involving the rookie defenseman Nick Jensen.

In 17 games, Howard compiled a 1.96 GAA and a .934 save percentage.

He credited his improvement over some inconsistency last season with some positioning tactics, under goaltending coach Jeff Salajko

“Jimmy’s trying to get back, we’re going to have to take it day-by-day,” Blashill said.

The five-day bye was negotiated into the current collective bargaining agreement by the players, who sought a break during a grueling six-month regular season and two months of playoffs for the two conference champions.

No practicing is permitted, and the Red Wings do not return to the ice for practice until Monday, before traveling Tuesday to Vancouver to play the Canucks.

They have 22 games left in their season.

Entering play Wednesday, the Red Wings trailed the Panthers by eight points for the final wild card slot in the Eastern Conference. But Florida has two games in hand.

The Wings also trail the Maple Leafs by nine points for third place, the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Toronto has a game in hand.

Now, with a playoff berth a longshot, a trade deadline looming and an expansion draft this off-season, the Wings may be prepared for changes among their goalies.