Red Wings-Lightning Preview

The Detroit Red Wings continue rattling off victories without Jimmy Howard, although the All-Star goaltender’s absence is becoming more and more noticeable.

The Red Wings’ defensive struggles could reach a breaking point Thursday night when they visit Tampa Bay to face a high-powered Lightning club looking to set a franchise record for consecutive home wins.

Petr Mrazek stepped into the starting role for Detroit (28-11-9) after Howard suffered a groin injury Jan. 10 and has gone 5-0-0 over six starts.

His initial strong play, however, has dropped off. After posting a 1.63 goals-against average through three starts, the 22-year-old has surrendered 11 goals with a 4.76 GAA in three games since.

Including a 5-4 win over Florida on Tuesday, Detroit has allowed 12 goals over the last three games – its worst three-game total of the season.

"Mrazek just wins games," coach Mike Babcock said to Detroit’s official website. "Sometimes some of the goals he gives up you ask, ‘Why did that go in?’ But then he wins the game. In the end, that’s what matters – winning games."

A recent influx of offense has trumped Detroit’s defensive failings, which proved to be the case again Tuesday. The Red Wings scored at least five goals for the third time in four contests and have a 4.33 average since Jan. 13.

They hold a one-point lead over the Lightning atop the Atlantic Division and their 65 points tie the New York Islanders for most in the Eastern Conference.

Detroit can secure a seventh consecutive win Thursday, which would mark its longest streak since another seven-game run Jan. 12-23, 2012.

"This was a big win for us, separation-wise for us and Florida, so that’s critical," Babcock said. "It sets ourselves up going into Tampa. We’ll be better now. Tampa will be better. Everyone will be."

Though the Lightning (30-15-4) have sputtered lately, their offense could accentuate Detroit’s defensive slide and help them claim a franchise-best ninth consecutive home win. Despite Tuesday’s 4-2 loss at Carolina, they are averaging an NHL-high 3.18 goals.

Tyler Johnson (48) and Steven Stamkos (45) lead Tampa Bay in points, and each scored in a 4-3 shootout win over the Red Wings on Nov. 9.

However, the Red Wings now meet the two stars while they’re both in the midst of a scoring drought. Johnson has been held without a goal in six games, while Stamkos has failed to score in three straight to match a season worst.

The Lightning have also experienced a dip on the power play, scoring on only eight of their last 68 opportunities – the NHL’s second-worst percentage (11.8) since Dec. 16.

In that same time frame, the Red Wings rank at the top of the league, scoring on 31.5 percent of their chances with the man advantage.

"We had such a good thing going probably (over the) first 25, 30 games of the year on the power play, and now it’s dried up," coach Jon Cooper told Tampa Bay’s official site.

"What’s frustrating is we’re really not giving ourselves a chance. We come in with a little bit of a shooter’s mentality, but we get in the game and we don’t. We’ve got to fix it or mix things up here a little bit, and that’s our job as a staff."

While Detroit has been dominant against Tampa Bay, winning 26 times over 38 all-time meetings, the Lightning have taken five of the last six and two straight at Amalie Arena.