Jimmy Howard blanks Senators, Red Wings win third straight

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin, center, celebrates his second-period goal against the Ottawa Senators with Evgeny Svechnikov, left, and Anthony Mantha, right.

Detroit – For only the second time this season, the Red Wings have won three in a row.

They beat the Senators 2-0 Saturday, in a 31-save shutout by Jimmy Howard.

Dylan Larkin scored the winning goal, his 14th tally of the season and fifth in his past seven games. Larkin has 10 points in his late nine games.

Andreas Athanasiou, who played 17 minutes, scored his 16th goal of the season.

Despite starting his season 11 games late, amid contract negotiations, and sometimes playing limited minutes, Athanasiou is tied with Frans Nielsen for third on the team in goals.

BOX SCORE: Red Wings 2, Senators 0

Against the Senators, Athanasiou played 98 seconds more than his season average of 15:22. Last season, he averaged 13:28.

The Wings also improved to 4-0 this season with 21-year-old defenseman Joe Hicketts in the lineup. Hicketts played all but those four games this season in Grand Rapids.

On Saturday, Hicketts played 18:52, fourth among Wings defensemen, firing two shots on goal in five attempts, seeing time on the power play, delivering two hits and compiling a plus-1 rating.

Evgeny Svechnikov picked up his second NHL assist, and fourth point of the season, in 13 games.

Svechnikov played 10:49, and was plus-2

“As players, we want to go out there and perform,” Howard said, brushing aside – as the Red Wings do, routinely – any talk of purposefully losing the last games of the season to improve chances for a higher draft choice.

“We don’t pay any attention to that. As players, we still want to go out there and perform, especially at home, in front of our fans.”

As for the shutout, Howard’s first since Nov. 22, 2016, Howard said, “It felt good.”

After he won the starting goalie’s job back from Petr Mrazek last season, Howard now seems poised to play the lion’s share of games next season.

He proved especially formidable for the Red Wings Saturday, stopping eight shots, a few of them big scoring chances, on the Senators’ five power plays.

And Howard is clearly still pushing himself.

“It took 59 games,” Howard said, of his performance this season, before shutting out a team. “Unreal.”

With two more goals from players they hope are future stars, the Red Wings hoped some of the less experienced men are creating some momentum for next season.

“Jimmy was great,” Larkin said. “He’s won battles for us all year. In my eyes, he’s been our MVP.”

Other might say the Wings’ most valuable player has been Larkin.

With his scoring spurt, since March 16, Larkin is now fifth on the team in goals and first in points, with 59, nine points ahead of Henrik Zetterberg.

“It does feel good,” Larkin said. “You know, I wish they were at bigger times in this season. But I guess I can take this confidence going into this summer.

“But, yeah, it does feel good.”

After a difficult month at the end of a consecutive difficult season, the Red Wings have their second three-game winning streak of 2017-18. They won four from Dec. 29 to Jan. 5.

The Wings have had back-to-back victories eight times this season.

Larkin opened the scoring in the second period when Nick Jensen sprung him and Anthony Mantha with a precise, productive two-line outlet pass.

Mantha and Larkin gained the Senators’ blue line on a two-on-one break. Mantha judiciously held the puck to keep the goalie, Mike Condon, in place, and then fed a timely pass to Larkin, who benefited from a wide-open net at 4:10.

The Red Wings were outplayed in the first period, and the 10-5 advantage in shots on goal for the Senators reflected the performance of the teams.

But Howard proved essential.

He made a couple of outstanding stops on four shots on goal on Senators power plays. But both teams came in ranked 25th in the NHL on the power play, each at 17 percent, and they were not making much of the man advantages.

He played as the best penalty killer for the Wings Saturday.

In the third period, assertive around the net in heavy traffic, Athanasiou picked up a loose puck in the slot, stepped to his left and let a quick wrist shot go to put the Wings up by two goals at 4:29.

The Red Wings were ahead by two, despite being outshot throughout the game, to that point.

The final shots on goal totals were 31-27, Senators.

“I think what we’re trying to do is deliver the puck to the net, and try to create a little more offense,” Athanasiou said.

“And the puck popped out there. And I just put it in.”

Athanasiou said earlier this season he is not as much concerned about his time on ice, and he is about making the most of his minutes.

But he had more time on ice Saturday than since Feb. 20.

“I think any chance I get to go on the ice, I try to make the most of it,” he said.

Jeff Blashill is plainly giving some of the less-experienced Wings a big more reins, with only three games now remaining in a difficult, disappointing season.

“We’ve played similar games the last few, and not won,” Blashill said. “And for a long stretch, there.

“So when, I think, you play those games over-and-over again, you’re bound to win. And, now, we’re winning.”