Howard’s stellar play creates net issue for Wings

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild tries to get a shot off in front of Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings during the first period.

Detroit — Jimmy Howard continues to make an offseason decision on the goaltenders difficult for the Red Wings.

Howard won his fourth game in five starts since returning from two-and-a-half months out of the lineup with a knee injury, beating the Wild in a 24-save performance in game in which his teammates mustered only 19 shots on goal.

In the five games, Howard has a .936 save percentage and 1.80 goals against average.

He also turned 33 Sunday.

“It’s part of the job, making saves when called upon,” Howard said. “I was happy I was able to pull through.

“It’s important to be a professional and still come to work every single day and go out there and play with pride. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to continue to go out there and work.”

Like all NHL teams, the Wings can protect only one goalie in the expansion draft.

They designated Petr Mrazek, 25, as the No. 1starter at the beginning of the season. But Howard played better, before injuring his knee in a collision in the crease, Dec. 20.

Howard has looked better than Mrazek since his return.

Mrazek’s 2.99 goals against average and .901 save percentage, still reflect his poor start.

Howard stood at 1.91 and .935 entering play Sunday.

The Red Wings have been alternating goalies since Howard returned.

“I think just from an evaluation standpoint, from where we sit, it’s important to give them both a chance to get a good-sized body of work,” Jeff Blashill said. “The other thing is, both guys have played very well.

“I thought Petr was playing excellent before Jimmy came back. Since Jimmy’s come back, he’s played excellent.

“So, might as well continue to play both of them, and put them in a position of confidence, if possible.”

Goal disallowed

Anthony Mantha fired a shot from about 50 feet that appeared to go right by the Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, at 9:46 of the third period Sunday.

But what would have been Mantha’s 16th goal and 35th point in 57 games was pulled off the score sheet by a referee due to goaltender interference, and the Red Wings failed to restore it on a coach’s appeal.

Justin Abdelkader bumped Dubnyk along his left side, just as Mantha’s shot went to Dubnyk’s left and into the net.

NHL hockey operations confirmed the call. While Abdelkader was covered closely by the Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, Dumba did not push the Wings forward into Dubnyk.

Mantha had a shot on goal in two attempts and a giveaway in 13:01 of ice time.

They are unusual circumstances for an NHL team, even in a year in which the World Cup of Hockey, just before the season, left the schedule a condensed mess.

Having defeated the Wild Sunday, the Red Wings play the Hurricanes on Monday and Tuesday.

Blashill and the Wings say they can handle it, pointing out that three games in three nights is fairly common in the American Hockey League, and backs-to-back increasingly common in the NHL.

But they did recall 22 year-old defenseman Dan Renouf from Grand Rapids Sunday, on an emergency basis.

The Red Wings were playing with six defensemen, including Niklas Kronwall whose wobbly knee was not expected to permit him as much ice time or the consecutive starts he has logged for much of the season.

Red Wings at Hurricanes

Faceoff: 7 p.m., Monday, PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.

TV/radio: FSD+, 97.1

Notes: The Hurricanes are desperate for points, six behind the Maple Leafs for the final wild card position in the Eastern Conference.