DETROIT – Jimmy Howard’s reliable play has made it easy for the Detroit Red Wings to keep starting him. Jonas Gustavsson is hoping to develop into that kind of goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While Gustavsson will try to earn another start, Howard will go for his 100th career victory and league-best 25th this season Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
Howard has started 30 of the past 32 games for the Red Wings (25-13-1) and has one of the best goals-against averages in the league at 1.99. He’s won 20 of his last 26 games.
He can become the ninth goaltender in team history to reach the 100-win mark and fourth to do so in 170 or fewer games.
Howard and the Red Wings, though, have had their troubles on the road this season. Detroit has won 12 straight at home but is 10-11-0 away from Joe Louis Arena, and Howard has alternated losses and wins in his last eight road contests.
He’ll try to put an end to that pattern following a 5-4 victory in Dallas on Tuesday. While he tied his season high for goals allowed, Howard gave up one over the final 32:35.
Jiri Hudler scored a pair of goals during the team’s fourth win in five games and second in a row, while Valtteri Filppula had a goal and two assists.
“We’ve done well at home, but haven’t been able to play as well on the road,” Filppula said. “We try to prepare the same as at home but it hasn’t been working out. It’s not easy to win anywhere. Home teams come hard, so maybe that affects us as well.”
The Red Wings have lost in their last three visits to Air Canada Centre, but Howard is set to make his first start there.
Gustavsson is expected to make his third start in a row for the Maple Leafs (20-15-5). He appeared in only three games in December as coach Ron Wilson often used James Reimer, but Wilson has stated the goaltender that wins will start again.
Gustavsson earned another start by recording his second career shutout Thursday, 4-0 over Winnipeg, his team’s second straight win and season high-tying third in a row at home. The Maple Leafs haven’t won four consecutive home games since a five-game run March 9-20, 2010.
“When I get the chance I try to make the most of it, have fun and enjoy it,” Gustavsson said. “Go out and play and try to get two points. If you do that and you play good, chances are you’re going to play again.”
Gustavsson was not in net during a 4-2 loss in Detroit on March 26 that snapped Toronto’s three-game win streak in the series. Howard stopped 15 shots in the contest but left in the third period with a sprained shoulder that caused him to miss two games.
Gustavsson beat Detroit 5-1 at home Nov. 7, 2009, making 35 saves in his only start versus the Red Wings.
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