Jimmy Howard has a target date for his return … Feb. 11 in Pittsburgh

DETROIT >> As far as recovering from an injury goes, everything is right on track for Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.

Howard took part in his first practice with the team Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena, albeit splitting time with Tom McCollum, since injuring his groin in the first period Jan. 10 in Washington.

“Even though it was just spot duty it felt great to be back out there,” Howard said. “I was out there before on my own with (goalie coach) Jimmy (Bedard) and then came out and did all the goalie drills at the beginning and stayed out for about 30 minutes in practice. It was good, didn’t really feel anything, so we’re just going to continue to push it.”

The best news is he has a target date to return, a week from Wednesday on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I think we’re right on schedule of where we want to be,” Howard said. “We don’t want to push it too soon, but we also don’t want to be out longer than I have to be, so we’re doing everything I think at the right pace.

“Hopefully against Pittsburgh I’ll be back out there,” Howard continued. “That’s what we’re shooting for. At first we had Phoenix circled, but we thought that would probably be just rushing it a little too much and Pitt will allow me a couple more practices to push it.”

Howard will gradually increase the intensity at practices during the Wings’ trip to Colorado and Arizona.

“Basically I bag myself out there so the legs and lungs are ready to go,” Howard said.

Howard was injured after he gave the puck away behind the net and then lunged his left leg backwards to try and reach the post before Washington’s Troy Brouwer scored just 1:53 into the first period.

He was carted off on a stretcher.

“I think I definitely escaped series injury,” Howard said. “When it happened I was really nervous, not being able to put any pressure on the leg or basically walk. I was on crutches for 24-48 hours. It responded well after a couple of days of being off of it.”

Howard is in the midst of having one of his best seasons in Detroit, posting a 16-7-7 record, with a 2.11 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.

He was also the Wings’ lone All-Star choice, but could not participate at the event because of the injury.

Despite his absence Detroit has gone 7-1-0 with Petr Mrazek getting the bulk of the workload.

“It’s progressed every single day, so it’s good,” Howard said. “We haven’t had any setbacks, knock on wood. Hopefully we can just keep pushing it.”

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