Red Wings-Panthers Preview
Jimmy Howard’s groin injury has done nothing to deter the Detroit Red Wings, who come out of the All-Star break riding a season-best five-game winning streak.
Petr Mrazek is likely to be in net again as Detroit looks to beat Florida for the first time in three tries while dealing the host Panthers a fifth consecutive defeat Tuesday night.
Howard has a 2.11 goals-against average and was named an All-Star, but suffered his injury less than two minutes into a 3-1 loss to Washington on Jan. 10 and was given a time frame of two to four weeks to recover.
The Red Wings (27-11-9) haven’t lost since with Mrazek starting each contest during the streak, though he hasn’t been at his best in the past two games. When Mrazek allowed three goals on seven shots against Buffalo on Jan. 18, Tom McCollum stepped in for his second career appearance and picked up a 6-4 victory.
Mrazek made 34 saves and two more in the shootout of a 5-4 win over Minnesota last Tuesday, though offense has keyed the last three victories in Detroit’s run, with the Red Wings recording 16 goals in those games.
They’ve won nine of 12 since the Christmas break, and are looking to stay hot following this latest time off. Detroit’s 63 points are 13 more than it had through 47 games last season.
"I think it’s been pretty decent," defenseman Niklas Kronwall told the team’s official website. "I thought we lost our energy there for a little bit right before Christmas. But I think after Christmas it feels like we’ve been getting some energy back and playing some decent hockey."
Detroit dropped both meetings with the Panthers (20-14-10) at Joe Louis Arena. Vincent Trocheck had a goal and two assists while Roberto Luongo made 38 saves in Florida’s 4-3 victory Dec. 2, and Luongo stopped 29 shots in a 4-3 shootout win Dec. 12.
The Panthers struggled heading into the All-Star break, though. They were outscored 16-7 in non-shootout goals during an 0-3-1 stretch and mustered only Brandon Pirri’s goal late in the third period of a 2-1 loss to Vancouver in their last contest Jan. 19.
Florida has gone 1 for 23 on the power play over its last eight.
"(The All-Star break) comes at a good time," Luongo said after the loss to the Canucks, the Panthers’ seventh game in 12 days. "We feel we’ve lost a little bit of jam here as a team, so it’s good for the guys to get a week off and recharge and come back with a fresh mindset next week for the second half of the year."
Luongo and rookie Aaron Ekblad had solid showings in Columbus during All-Star weekend, but they’ll have to refocus for games that count if the Panthers are to make a run at the postseason.
Florida has two games remaining on a five-game homestand.
"For me, personally, I think we had a good first half to the break right now," coach Gerard Gallant said. "We didn’t play that well in the last three games. We had some spurts where we played well, but it wasn’t enough.
"We have to work on winning hockey games and it’s one at a time, one at a time. And we know we’re going to have to play real well to have a chance at the playoffs."
Gustav Nyquist has scored in his last five contests against the Panthers, losers of four of the last five home matchups with the Red Wings.