Thanks to the stellar play of Jonas Gustavsson, the Detroit Red Wings haven’t missed a beat without their starting goalie.
Now they’ll likely have to overcome the loss of another key defensive player to get their revenge on the Phoenix Coyotes.
While Jimmy Howard may return, the visiting Red Wings are expected to be without Niklas Kronwall as they try to extend their winning streak to five Saturday night against a Phoenix team that dealt them their last loss.
Gustavsson continued his outstanding stretch while filling in for Howard on Thursday when he stopped 38 of 40 shots in a 4-2 victory at Colorado that ended the hosts’ unbeaten start.
Since Howard went down with a bruised hand, Gustavsson has a 1.67 goals-against average and .953 save percentage while winning each of his three starts.
Howard, however, might be able to get back between the pipes as the Red Wings (6-2-0) go for their fifth straight win, which would be their longest streak since a six-game run Feb. 8 – Feb. 19, 2012.
Howard, who hasn’t played since making 32 saves in a 5-2 win over Philadelphia last Saturday, is 8-2-1 with a 2.24 GAA in 11 career starts in Phoenix – six of which have come in the playoffs.
Detroit isn’t likely to have Kronwall (one goal, six points) after he was hit from behind in the first period Thursday and left on a stretcher. He was diagnosed with a mild concussion, but reportedly stayed with the team as it flew to Phoenix.
”It was really scary,” fellow defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “He was (knocked) out. He didn’t really know what happened there. We found out pretty early he was fine and he was going to recover fine.”
The Red Wings, who are fifth in the NHL with 2.25 goals allowed per game, hope to continue their strong play defensively against a Phoenix team that has scored five times on 69 shots in overtime and shootout losses in its last two games.
The Coyotes (4-2-2) haven’t fallen in regulation since a 6-1 loss at the New York Islanders on Oct. 8, but they allowed Anaheim to score the game-tying goal with 2:02 remaining Friday on the way to a 3-2 shootout loss.
”We were scared to win. That is not how you finish off hockey games,” goaltender Mike Smith said. ”We were solid up until the third period, then we went out in the third and had six shots and let them come. When you give that team the chances that we gave them, sooner or later it’s going to get the back of the net.”
Mike Ribeiro, who signed a five-year deal in the offseason to be Phoenix’s No. 1 center, was able to extend his points streak to five games with an assist.
The Coyotes were the last team to beat Detroit on Oct. 10 when Michael Stone and Antoine Vermette scored in the third period of a 4-2 win at Joe Louis Arena.
Smith had 28 saves in that meeting and 37 stops Friday, though he could give way to backup Thomas Greiss in the second of back-to-back games. In his only start, Greiss finished with 36 saves in a 2-1 win at Philadelphia on Oct. 11.
Whoever gets the nod will have to contain a Detroit team that has totaled 14 goals while converting 6 of 16 power-play opportunities during its winning streak.
Henrik Zetterberg has four goals and three assists during a four-game point streak, while Pavel Datsyuk – who had two goals against the Avalanche – has three scores and five assists over his own four-game run.
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