Wings goalie Howard hopes to be back for Winter Classic

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard hopes to be back for Winter Classic against Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Detroit Red Wings, losing both games and players in advance of the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, are in desperate need of good news.

Monday afternoon brought one encouraging bulletin, less than 24 hours after the team’s fifth consecutive defeat: Jimmy Howard, their No. 1 goaltender, pronounced himself ahead of schedule in recovering from a knee sprain initially expected to sideline him for two to four weeks.

The four-week timetable would have pushed Howard’s return to Jan. 9 in San Jose – a week after the highly anticipated showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium. But Howard was very upbeat during an appearance at the dedication of a new outdoor rink at Clark Park in Southwest Detroit. (The Red Wings and NHL led funding for the project.)

While he didn’t skate as an instructor for the youth clinic that followed the ceremony – teammates Niklas Kronwall and Danny DeKeyser did – Howard said he’s been feeling “really good” lately. He added: “I’m actually ahead of schedule right now, a little bit. I’m just going to keep doing treatment and keep working and get back out there as soon as possible.”

When asked if he has his mind set on returning Jan. 1 before a potential world-record crowd in Ann Arbor, Howard replied, “I’m hoping I’ll be back in there before Jan. 1.”

Howard is 6-8-7 with a 2.65 goals-against average this season. (The Red Wings are 9-3-2 in games started by backups Jonas Gustavsson and Petr Mrazek.) Howard has additional motivation to return before Jan. 1; he’s under consideration for the US Olympic roster, which will be announced that day following the Winter Classic.

“He’s already saying how much better it feels, how he’s just doing better every day,” said DeKeyser, who’s been out for nearly a month with his own injury, a separated left shoulder. “Hopefully we’ll get him back for (the Winter Classic). We’ve got goalies that are capable, as well, but we’d love to have Jimmy there.”

Howard, DeKeyser, captain Henrik Zetterberg, and forwards Stephen Weiss and Darren Helm are among the key Red Wings on injured reserve. Detroit is sixth in the Eastern Conference, six points clear of a playoff spot.

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