The injury-riddled Detroit Red Wings could be on the verge of getting one of their best players back.

The St. Louis Blues just did.

Jimmy Howard is expected to start in goal for the Central Division-leading Red Wings as they try to avoid a season-worst fourth consecutive road loss Thursday night against T.J. Oshie and the Blues.

Howard, who missed the last two games after bruising his right knee during Friday night’s 3-2 shootout loss in Columbus, told the team’s official website that he expects to be ready for this game after practicing Tuesday and Wednesday.

With backup Chris Osgood sidelined by a hernia, Joey MacDonald was forced into action and struggled in consecutive starts, going 1-1-0 with a 3.99 goals-against average.

After blowing a third period lead in a 6-5 overtime win Saturday night versus the Blue Jackets, Detroit (28-12-6) – playing without Tomas Holmstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Mike Modano, Dan Cleary and Brad Stuart – fell 4-1 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

“Sloppy plays and mistakes and giveaways and the puck ended up in our net. It is disappointing,” said defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who has four goals and an assist in his last two games against the Blues, including his first career hat trick in a 5-2 win Dec. 15.

Defenseman Niklas Kronwall refuses to use the Red Wings’ lack of health as an excuse for the poor play and knows they need to come out with a better effort after failing to take a lead into the second period in nine straight games.

“Every team goes through injuries,” he said. “We have to find a way to prepare way better than we have, especially at the start of the game.”

Howard is 7-1-0 in his last 10 road starts and 3-0-0 in his last three overall meetings with St. Louis.

Henrik Zetterberg, who leads Detroit with 51 points, has two goals and eight assists during a five-game point streak versus the Blues. Detroit is 26-4-3 against St. Louis when Zetterberg registers at least one point.

Following a 31-game absence due to a broken left ankle, Oshie returned for the Blues (22-17-6) on Tuesday night as they snapped a season-worst three-game home losing streak with a 2-1 win over Los Angeles.

“Obviously, the legs and lungs aren’t where you want them to be. You can’t really match a game just skating by yourself,” said Oshie, who was leading the team with 10 points through 13 games when he was injured. “But all is well. Even after a bad shift it was kind of hard to wipe the grin off my face.”

The Blues were 9-1-2 before Oshie got hurt and have registered only two wins in eight games this month. Defenseman Erik Johnson, though, believes that Oshie’s return could get them back on track.

“He’s an energetic guy and plays a lot of situations for us,” said Johnson, who has recorded a point in a season-best four straight contests. “He does a great job and he plays with a lot of enthusiasm and he’s a big lift for us, so it’s definitely good to get him back here.”

Jaroslav Halak made 26 saves Tuesday to snap out of a personal 1-4-0 stretch in which he allowed four goals four times over six starts. He had lost consecutive games in Detroit earlier this season while allowing a total of 11 goals prior to a 4-3 home victory over the Red Wings on Dec. 23.

St. Louis defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo is expected to miss two weeks after being struck in the face by a puck Tuesday, and the Blues remain without forwards David Perron and Andy McDonald due to concussions.

Copyright 2011 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.


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