The Detroit Red Wings are getting their top goaltender back to help with their recent defensive-zone struggles, and they could also have their leading scorer back to help counteract those issues offensively.
Jimmy Howard will be in goal Friday night when the Red Wings host the Washington Capitals in the first game of a home-and-home, and coach Mike Babcock thought Henrik Zetterberg’s chances of playing were also high.
Howard has missed the team’s last four games with a left knee sprain while Zetterberg has been out for two with lower-back issues similar to the injury that forced him out of 11 games in December.
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"We just have to see," Zetterberg told the team’s official website. "We’ve done everything we could so it doesn’t get worse and now just hopefully stay on this path and it keeps getting better."
Health has been an ongoing issue for Detroit (23-19-11), and it is far from 100 percent. Pavel Datsyuk remains out with a lower-body injury with no immediate timetable for a return, and Sweden Olympic coach Par Marts said Thursday Johan Franzen will miss the Winter Games. That likely means his return to the Red Wings from ongoing concussion issues won’t happen in the five games leading into the Olympic break.
Injury report aside, the Red Wings have allowed 18 goals in five games, a 2-2-1 stretch dating back to the game Howard was hurt on Jan. 20. Tuesday’s 5-0 loss at Philadelphia matched their most lopsided defeat of the season as they were shut out for the seventh time, which is more than any season total since suffering seven shutouts in 2009-10. They were shut out six times in the last two seasons combined.
"We want to get our big guys back," forward Drew Miller said. "A lot of the guys that are out right now are big leaders and guys we look to for scoring. But we’re not looking at that as an excuse. We’ve got guys who can step and play."
When in the lineup, Zetterberg has fit that description. He has eight points in his last four games, a 3-1-0 stretch for the team. The Red Wings are 20-12-8 with Zetterberg and 3-9-3 without him. When he scores, they’re 10-2-1. He doesn’t have a point in his last three games against Washington, and the Red Wings have lost each matchup.
Howard’s value this season is more questionable. The Red Wings’ No. 1 is 9-12-8 with a 2.64 goals-against average while backup Jonas Gustavsson is 13-4-3 with a 2.59 GAA.
The Capitals (24-22-8) have had a muddied goaltending situation for much of the season now. After Braden Holtby allowed five goals in Thursday’s 5-2 loss at Columbus, Michal Neuvirth is expected to start against Detroit. Neuvirth has been better than Holtby lately, but he’s won once in his last five starts.
The loss to the Blue Jackets snapped a two-game winning streak that followed an 0-5-2 stretch.
"It was very disappointing," said Capitals coach Adam Oates, whose team fell behind 4-0 midway through the second. "All in all, terrible first 30 minutes of hockey."
Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals’ power play, Washington’s top strengths, were held quiet. The power play went 0 for 7 while Ovechkin matched a season low with two shots and had a career-worst minus-5 rating.
"I was today the worst player out there," Ovechkin said.
He has six points in his last four games against the Red Wings and has never gone without a point in nine career games against them (13 points).
Washington defenseman Mike Green was injured on a hard hit in the first period against the Blue Jackets and didn’t return. He’ll be evaluated Friday but was traveling to Detroit.
The Capitals have won three straight against the Red Wings, including a 4-3 shootout win in Detroit on Nov. 15.