PLYMOUTH, Mich. – Jimmy Howard isn’t sure what to expect when the NHL season begins this weekend.
Will scoring increase or will goalies such as Howard have an advantage following the lockout?
“That’s a good question. We’re going to have to see,” the Detroit netminder said. “I think as the season progresses, the goalies are going to get better, just because not a lot of us were able to find jobs overseas. … Today was definitely a good start.”
Howard and the Red Wings held a public scrimmage Tuesday night, and Howard’s White team lost 4-2 to the Red team. Henrik Zetterberg, who was officially named Detroit’s new captain before the scrimmage, banged a rebound past Howard with 5:42 remaining in the second period to break a 2-all tie.
Despite the loss, Howard was encouraged by his performance.
“To be honest, I felt really good out there—a lot better than I thought it was going to be,” Howard said. “We’ve got to dive right into it, no matter what.”
Detroit opens the 48-game season at St. Louis on Saturday night. The Red Wings play at home for the first time next Tuesday night against Dallas.
Detroit is one team that may not have to worry much about a post-lockout lapse in fan support. Admission to Tuesday’s scrimmage was free, and about 90 minutes before it started, fans were already forming a line outside that wrapped from the front of the arena to the back.
“The way they came out here tonight, it’s inspiring for us,” Howard said.
They eventually packed the small venue, which seats around 3,500 for Ontario Hockey League games. In addition to the scrimmage, players competed in a brief shootout after the game.
Star Pavel Datsyuk did not play in the scrimmage after staying overseas for Sunday’s KHL All-Star Game in Russia. Now back with the Red Wings, Datsyuk said he enjoyed a chance to play in his home country for a bit during the lockout.
“Of course it’s long time don’t play in Russia,” Datsyuk said. “Lots of Russian friends, always welcome to home.”
The announcement that Zetterberg would be captain came as little surprise. The 32-year-old has been an alternate captain for the Red Wings, and he had 22 goals and 47 assists last season.
When Zetterberg helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2008, he earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for his two-way play. He replaces retired defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom as captain.
“Of course it’s a very special day,” Zetterberg said. “It is special, and I’m glad the day is here, and we’re back playing again. Looking forward to getting going on Saturday.”
Zetterberg and Drew Miller both scored for the Red team. The two squads were made up of members of the Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins, the team’s American Hockey League affiliate. Play seemed crisp enough, but it’s hard to say how the product will look when the games count in a few days.
“The NHL’s a fast, fast league, and the pace is going to fall off when you haven’t played a bunch,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “If you’ve really worked hard on your conditioning, it shows, and if you haven’t it shows.”