Gave: Wings will soon need to sort out crowd in goal

Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson, of course, started the season as Detroit's goaltending tandem.

Rick Osentoski

If two is company and three’s a crowd, then four might be a good problem to have if you’re the Detroit Red Wings.

Injured goaltenders Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson will accompany the Red Wings to their two-game road trip to Florida this week. Both are rehabbing serious injuries. Gustavsson, out since he dislocated his left shoulder on Nov. 5, is close to returning; Howard, who suffered a slight groin tear on Jan. 10, is at least a couple of weeks away. Initially, the Wings forecast that he’d return in two to four weeks, but since they’ve adjusted that to three to five weeks.

They expect both to be back with the team for practices this week, after which they will deliberate on how to proceed, General Manager Ken Holland said.

"With Gustavsson, the plan right now is for him to practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and then we’ll sit down on Thursday and have a conversation about what to do," Holland said, acknowledging that if Gustavsson is cleared to play there’s a good chance he’ll get a game or two with Grand Rapids before returning to the Detroit roster.

"With Howard, we’re hoping he’s to a point where he could do some off-ice work with our trainers," Holland said. "He just had five days off for the All-Star break. If he didn’t go to Florida, he’d be looking at 9-10 days by himself. I would think he’d come with us so we can slowly start ramping him up."

Howard and Gustavsson, of course, started the season as Detroit’s goaltending tandem. Howard was rebounding nicely from an injury-riddled season a year ago and was enjoying one of the best years of his career. He had learned he was selected to play in the All-Star game just an hour or so before he was carted off the ice in Washington. Gustavsson was the hero down the stretch last season, winning several important games to help Detroit stake claim to its 23rd straight playoff appearance after many had writing the Wings off.

In their place, Petr Mrazek and Tom McCollum have performed admirably. Mrazek has proven beyond doubt that he has a bright future in the NHL. And in the one game in which he didn’t perform well, McCollum earned his first NHL win in relief when the Wings stormed back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Buffalo.

Mrazek and McCollum began the season as the top tandem with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League. There was some speculation that McCollum would return to Grand Rapids while the NHL went on break last week. But Holland explained that NHL rules stipulate that all teams must have two healthy goaltenders on their rosters at all times — even during breaks like these. With both Howard and Gustavsson on injured reserve, McCollum got to stay and continue drawing a much larger NHL paycheck.

In their absence, Jared Coreau was getting the bulk of the work, but his record slipped to 6-6-1 amid a four-game losing streak. On Friday, Pat Nagle, who spent most of his season with Fort Wayne of the East Coast Hockey League, earned his first AHL win to help the Griffins beat Utica. In both Detroit and Grand Rapids, four goalies have won games this season.

The goalie glut is a good problem to have, Holland acknowledged. With both Mrazek and Gustavsson playing well, it means that the Wings don’t have to rush Howard back into action from an injury that can tend to nag goalies.

They’re thinking at some point in a nine-day span between the Feb. 5 game at Colorado and the Feb. 14 game against visiting Winnipeg, Howard should be ready to return to the starting lineup, Holland said.

Howard won’t need a rehab assignment in Grand Rapids because he was playing regularly before his injury. Gustavsson would benefit from a game or two in the NHL, Holland explained, because he has played in just three games this season.

In the meantime, expect Mrazek to get both starts in Florida, with McCollum continuing to serve as his backup.