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Wings’ five-game win streak means nothing according to Babcock as team embarks to play 11 of next 14 on road

TAYLOR >> The Detroit Red Wings come out of the All-Star break winners of five games in a row.

That means nothing to coach Mike Babcock after the team returned to practice Monday at Taylor Sportsplex.

“That’s over with,” Babcock said after the 40-mintue practice. “To me, we’ve got a new game. It’s like starting all over. We’ve got a 35-game push here and let’s get started. These next five games for us are real important. If I’m not mistaken four of them are on the road, so let’s get off to a good start and do well.”

The Wings embark on a pretty tough schedule off a five-day break playing 11 of their next 14 on the road starting Tuesday night at Florida. That’s followed with a game at Tampa Bay Thursday before returning home to face the New York Islanders.

“It’s always a challenge to go on the road, but you’ve got to stick with what you do,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We’ve had a lot of games on the road just after Christmas and I thought we did a fairly good job of sticking with it. We’ve got to get back to work here and do the right things.”

All three teams of the Wings’ next opponents have given them trouble in recent years.

Florida has won both meetings this season against Detroit, both played at Joe Louis Arena. The Panthers are also 5-2-0 since the start of last season against the Wings. Three of those wins were in a shootout.

Tampa Bay is 5-1-0 against Detroit since the start of last season, while the Islanders are 7-1-0 in their past eight against the Wings.

“You’ve got to win games,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “If you look at our division, the teams ahead of us are winning games and the teams behind us are winning games so you have to keep winning if you want to be in the hunt.”

The Wings have 63 points through 47 games and are just a point behind Tampa Bay for the overall lead in the Eastern Conference.

“I feel we’ve won some games, but I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey in these last few at all,” Babcock said. “I feel we’re a confident group that has a pretty good understanding of how we have to play and now we got to get back and do that again. I don’t get all hung up on where all the games are, we’ve got a game in Florida (Tuesday) and we’re going to get there and try to play well.”

Are the Wings over overachieving this season? Team is a point out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference

DETROIT >> If you had taken a poll inside the Wings’ locker room prior to the start of the season and asked if the team would be a point out of first place for the top spot in the Eastern Conference by the All-Star break, a majority of the responses would have been no.

Well that’s just where Detroit is at, with 63 points in 47 games and just a point behind Tampa Bay.

“When I thought about around July 5 when not much happened this summer, I was disappointed, like a few of my veteran players who called me were disappointed, too,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t think any of us would have believed we’d be at this spot, the general manager and myself included.”

The team didn’t land any of the needs it had searched for through free agency, mainly a right-handed shooting defenseman, and essentially brought back the same squad from last season.

So far it’s worked out.

The Wings (27-11-9), who will come out of the break on a five-game winning streak and tied with the New York Islanders for second overall in the Eastern Conference, have 13 more points than they did after 47 games last season.

Health has also played a major role in getting the Wings to where they’re at in the standings.

Last season Detroit had the second most man games lost according to mangameslost.com at 421 and still found a way into the playoffs. And the Wings’ two best players – Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk – were limited to 45 games each.

“The contributions of players that were out a lot last year due to injuries have been a real positive and then the continued development of the younger players,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “At the end of the day, when you’re in the playoffs 23 straight years it means a lot of picking late and we’re trying to accomplish two goals at the same time, we’re trying to make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup and we’re also trying to rebuild the team on the fly.”

This year Detroit is 14th in man games lost with 111. Columbus is first with 283.

“Everyone’s been healthy and we’ve been playing well, so it’s not a huge surprise,” Darren Helm said. “It’s hard work but it’s paid off.”

The injuries last season has helped in the development of the younger players, including Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, who lead the team in goals with 21 and 19 respectively.

“Our scouts have done a real nice job and obviously (Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill) has done a good job in developing and then we’ve done a good job here,” Babcock said.

Special teams have also contributed. The Wings rank in the top 10 in both power play (second) and penalty kill (sixth).

“We’re in a good situation and now we’ve got to get better,” Babcock said. “Our penalty kill hasn’t been near as good here lately. We’ve got to get our penalty kill back, our faceoff circle back and get everyone playing a little better. I think the big thing right now is just get guys away and get them freshened up and get ready for a push.”

Detroit also is 10th in goals per game and seventh in goals against.

“We’re doing a lot of good things,” Zetterberg said. “We’ve gotten better and got it going here. Compared to last year we’re more healthy. I think we’re a little deeper. Special teams are a little bit better.

The Wings have also taken advantage of a favorable schedule.

During the first half they’ve had a favorable home schedule and have faced teams coming off games the night before 13 times.

However, coming out of the break Detroit plays 11 of its first 14 on the road and 20 of its last 35.

“There’s a long way to go and we have to keep winning games,” Zetterberg said. “We know that. Montreal and Tampa will win games. And Boston will win games. We need to keep playing well if we want to have fun in the end.”

Pulkkinen has yet to register a point with Wings; he’s not pressing and just happy team is winning

DETROIT >> Teemu Pulkkinen went from being a team’s leading scorer to having difficulty finding room to shoot the puck.

Heading into play Tuesday, Pulkkinen has no goals and no assists in five games, while averaging a little over 12 minutes a game.

He also has just eight shots on goal.

“There’s no space,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s the NHL, so there’s no space. In the American League or in Europe you swing by something or you cruise around, big shot, if you’re not in the right spot you never get the puck and then if your feet aren’t turned right so you can release it on the one-touch you never getting a shot. It’s just coming in and getting used to the league and understanding. It usually takes guys, unless you’re an absolute superstar, more than one try.”

Prior to being called up from Grand Rapids, Pulkkinen led the AHL in scoring with 20 goals and was tied for second with 39 points.

He had also equaled a Griffins franchise record prior to joining the Wings with goals in eight consecutive games. The mark was set by Donald MacLean in the 2005-06 season.

“I feel pretty good, unfortunately I haven’t scored any goals or gotten any points,” Pulkkinen said. “For me this is good experience and I now I know I can play here and compete against these guys and battle hard against stronger and bigger guys.”

Pulkkinen was moved to the top power play unit for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

“When you try harder to score you never score,” Pulkkinen said. “You just have to keep going, feel calm and relaxed and just play the way you play. When you start pushing it too much it’s not going to be good. I just go out and play. Of course I want to score, but it’s not easy. It’ll come.”

Pulkkinen played three games last season with the Wings and didn’t register a point while averaging less than eight minutes of ice time per game.

“It’s hard here,” Pulkkinen said. “The game is faster, players are aggressive, stronger. The game is better here. The D knows how to block the shots, where to be when guys are shooting.

“I want to score goals, get some points, but I don’t want to get frustrated that I haven’t scored,” Pulkkinen continued. “The team is winning right now so that’s perfect. Everything is good here. I just try and push hard and play better every night.”

Pulkkinen had just four shots on goal in those three games last season in Detroit.

“It’s been good,” Pulkkinen said. “We’ve won the last four games so it’s good for the team. The team is playing really good. It’s good right now.”

Pulkkinen, along with Xavier Ouellet, was selected to the AHL All-Star game, which takes place on Jan. 26.
He wasn’t sure if he’ll be playing in it or not.

“I think I’m going there,” Pulkkinen said. “We’ll see after the game to see what for sure is going on. They’re going to decide what’s going on.”

Babcock juggles third and fourth lines; team looks for Mrazek to bounce back

DETROIT >> Quick update from the Wings’ morning skate prior to taking on the Minnesota Wild tonight at Joe Louis Arena.

Wings coach Mike Babcock has switched up his third and fourth lines.

He’s got Riley Sheahan centering Drew Miller and Luke Glendening, while Joakim Andersson will center Stephen Weiss and Teemu Pulkkinen.

For Andersson, it’s the first time he’ll play center all season.

“Working down low in the D-zone is the biggest difference I would say,” Andersson said. “Playing wing, on the wall, you have to get the pucks out and stuff. It’s stuff you’re not used to and breaking out of the zone when we rim the puck up the walls, you’re not used to that as a center, otherwise not too much.”

When Andersson had been in the lineup he was playing wing alongside Glendending, who centered the line, and Miller.

“The way we play we try and have all three forwards doing everything right,” Andersson said. “The first guy will play down low, as a winger you might not have as much responsibility to be the third guy. We have to have all three guys doing everything.”

Andersson has a goal and four assists in 34 games this season.

Petr Mrazek will be back in goal. Mrazek was pulled on Sunday after allowing three goals on seven shots against the Buffalo Sabres.

“The team was brutal, let’s be honest,” Babcock said of his team’s 6-4 come-from-behind win over the Sabres. “He was part of it. No one was prepared to play. He never got an opportunity to play in the second and third when everyone else got an opportunity to bail themselves out, so he has an opportunity here. That’s what the league is about, it’s an everyday league. Part of being a young guy is when you have success is you dwell on the success instead of getting ready for tomorrow. You have these lapses in back to back games with young guys, so here’s an opportunity to bounce back.”

Howard out 2-4 weeks, possibly longer

DETROIT >> According to Wings general manger Ken Holland goalie Jimmy Howard is out 2-4 weeks with a slight groin tear.

The team has scheduled an ultrasound Monday to see the extent of the damage.

“We think he’s out through the All-Star break and maybe beyond,” Holland texted. “In my 18 years of being a GM I’ve found no one really knows how one player heals.”

Howard was placed on IR and will miss a minimum of a week.

Severity of Howard’s injury still undetermined

DETROIT >> For the time being, this is Petr Mrazek’s team.

Mrazek has been elevated to the Wings’ No. 1 goalie after the team placed Jimmy Howard on injured reserve with a groin injury.

“It’s a good opportunity for him,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We’re going to have to get him settled down a little bit. There’s a point where he challenges and then over-challenges. We’ve got to get that under control. We should have no trouble with that.”

It’s still not known the extent of Howard’s injury.

He had an MRI Sunday, but will need to have an ultrasound Monday to determine the severity of the injury.

Howard, who had just been named to the 2015 All-Star Game, was injured Saturday night 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 taken from the ice on a stretcher.

Howard was having one of his best seasons of his career. He’s 16-7-7 record in 32 games while ranking fourth in the NHL in goals-against average (2.11) and tied for 11th in save percentage (.920).

Mrazek is the Wings’ goalie of the future.

“He’s a good goaltender, he plays the puck well and he’ll win games for us,” Babcock said.

This season he’s 5-3-1 with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.

“For being a young guy he plays with a lot of confidence,” Jonathan Ericsson said. “I like the way he wants to stay in the game, he wants to play the puck for us. He looks confident doing that and that makes us confident about him.

“I think he’s been making some really nice plays, better passes than the D sometimes,” Ericsson continued. “He’s making big saves for us. I feel like he’s comfortable and confident back there. That’s everything about today’s game.”

Mrazek has played 20 career NHL games, with a 8-8-3 record.

“When I played three games in a row before Christmas, I felt great,” Mrazek said. “Always when you can play lots of games in a row, it helps you get confidence and you’re going get into the game. But it’s not nice to see Howie hurt.”

Because Jonas Gustavsson is still recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered in November, the Wings recalled Tom McCollum from Grand Rapids. McCollum is 10-8-1 this season with the Griffins with a 2.33 GAA and .911 save percentage in 21 games.

Howard placed on injured reserve; Mrazek elevated to No. 1 goalie

DETROIT >> For the time being, this is Petr Mrazek’s team.

Mrazek has been elevated to the Wings’ No. 1 goalie after the team placed Jimmy Howard on injured reserve with a groin injury.

“It’s a good opportunity for him,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We’re going to have to get him settled down a little bit. There’s a point where he challenges and then over-challenges. We’ve got to get that under control. We should have no trouble with that.”

It’s still not known the extent of Howard’s injury.

He was scheduled to have an MRI Sunday afternoon.

Howard, who had just been named to the 2015 All-Star Game, was injured Saturday night 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 taken from the ice on a stretcher.

Howard was having one of his best seasons of his career. He’s 16-7-7 record in 32 games while ranking fourth in the NHL in goals-against average (2.11) and tied for 11th in save percentage (.920).

Mrazek is the Wings’ goalie of the future.

“He’s a good goaltender, he plays the puck well and he’ll win games for us,” Babcock said.

This season Mrazek’s 5-3-1 with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.

“For being a young guy he plays with a lot of confidence,” Jonathan Ericsson said. “I like the way he wants to stay in the game, he wants to play the puck for us. He looks confident doing that and that makes us confident about him.

“I think he’s been making some really nice plays, better passes than the D sometimes,” Ericsson continued. “He’s making big saves for us. I feel like he’s comfortable and confident back there. That’s everything about today’s game.”

Mrazek has played 20 career NHL games, with a 8-8-3 record.

“When I played three games in a row before Christmas, I felt great,” Mrazek said. “Always when you can play lots of games in a row, it helps you get confidence and you’re going get into the game. But it’s not nice to see Howie hurt.”

Because Jonas Gustavsson is still recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered in November, the Wings recalled Tom McCollum from Grand Rapids.

McCollum is 10-8-1 this season with the Griffins with a 2.33 GAA and .911 save percentage in 21 games.