Howard made 28 saves—including a penalty-shot stop and another denial on a breakaway—and kept the New York Rangers at bay long enough to give the Red Wings a 3-1 victory Sunday night.
“Howie was good,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He mentally battled and he hung in and he is going to start next game against St. Louis.”
Those assignments over the 37-year-old Osgood are no longer surprising. Howard has started five of Detroit’s past seven games and has earned three wins. He is 8-5-1 this season with a 2.55 goals-against average.
Keeping scoring down is even more important than usual for Detroit, which has struggled to find offense while missing injured players Johan Franzen(notes), Valtteri Filppula(notes), Jason Williams(notes), Niklas Kronwall(notes) and Andreas Lilja(notes).
Dan Cleary snapped a 1-1 tie with 2:03 left to give the Red Wings three of a possible four points in weekend games at New Jersey and New York. The Red Wings shook off an early 1-0 deficit and won this matchup between Original Six teams.
“When you have a lot of guys out, you have to focus on playing well defensively,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) said. “You can’t open yourself up defensively because goals are so hard to get in this league now.
“We did an excellent job in front of Howie. He made the saves when we needed, but I thought we played really well defensively in front of him, too.”
After Marian Gaborik(notes) failed to control the puck and get off a shot in the Detroit end, Lidstrom started a rush the other way. Henrik Zetterberg(notes) sent a pass to Cleary, who banked in a shot from the goal line off the skate of goalie Henrik Lundqvist(notes) for his seventh.
“I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t really see it in front of me,” Lundqvist said. “I was expecting a shot earlier, and then I just went far down and I kind of got stuck there. It is a tough one to let in that late.”
Detroit, which rallied from two goals down in front of Osgood before losing in a shootout on Saturday, also got goals from Pavel Datsyuk(notes) and Kris Draper(notes), into an empty net. The Red Wings have won three of five (3-1-1).
“It’s huge to take three out of four points here,” Howard said.
The Red Wings tied it 1-1 four seconds after their second power play expired. Tomas Holmstrom(notes) set up shop in his usual spot in front and distracted Lundqvist as Zetterberg flipped a puck on net from the left circle. Lundqvist stopped the shot, but the rebound bounced to Datsyuk, who jammed in his seventh goal with 8:01 left in the second.
Datsyuk had gone seven games without a goal. Detroit generated only 12 goals in that stretch, including three games in which the Red Wings were either shut out or scored once.
The Rangers took the lead at 15:56 of the first on Boyle’s third, despite being outshot 14-6 in the frame. New York, too, has been searching for offense. The Rangers netted only 10 goals in their previous five games, following a seven-goal outburst against Columbus on Nov. 23.
New York couldn’t take advantage of breakaways by Ryan Callahan(notes) and Christopher Higgins(notes). Callahan’s rush was disrupted by a hook to the midsection by Jonathan Ericsson(notes) 1:37 into the second period that produced a penalty shot. On the attempt, Callahan raced in and cut to his right, but Howard beat him to the post with his pad.
“It was desperation more than anything,” Howard said. “I just threw a leg over there and I was able to stop it. He did a great move.”
The game featured physical play on both sides.
Sean Avery(notes) absorbed a punch from Zetterberg near the Detroit bench in the second period as he ratcheted up his agitation techniques. New York’s Artem Anisimov(notes) was flattened by defenseman Brad Stuart(notes) in front of the penalty box as he skated with his head down. Stuart caught him with a high, hard hit to the chest that sent Anisimov sprawling.
The Rangers enjoyed three power plays in the third, but failed on all. Avery had the best chance to score, but the puck bounced off his stick during the second advantage as he stood in front of an open right side.
“One of them we were all over the place,” Babcock said. “That was goaltending, that wasn’t penalty-killing. It was a disaster.
“Goaltending is your best penalty-killer. Sometimes that masks the mistakes you made.”
NOTES: Red Wings D Brian Rafalski(notes) returned to the lineup after missing two games because of a back injury. … Detroit is 11-1 against the Rangers since Feb. 14, 1999. … Gaborik failed to record a point for only the fourth time in 27 games this season.