Goalie Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings are just hours from beginning a 48-game sprint over less than 100 days to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The NHL season finally begins for Detroit on Saturday in St. Louis.
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DETROIT — The last time there was a National Hockey League player lockout, Jimmy Howard wasn’t in the professional ranks.
During the 2004-2005 season — or lack thereof — Howard was a junior in college, months away from joining the Detroit Red Wings. At the time, the goalie paid some attention to labor situation, but he had no real idea what to expect when the most recent lockout went into effect in September.
Instead of going through the grind of an 82-game NHL season, Howard — and the rest of the Red Wings and the NHL’s players — had to sit and wait for some form of resolution.
“It was just an emotional roller coaster,” Howard said. “From Day One, at the start of the lockout, you’re thinking, ‘oh, the beginning of November, we’ll be going back to work.’ Then in December it seems like, ‘well, okay, maybe now’s the time.’ Then the rug got pulled out from under us."
After being locked out for 113 days, Howard and the Red Wings open the season at 8 p.m. Saturday at St. Louis, and three nights later, host the Dallas Stars at 7:30 p.m. in their home opener at Joe Louis Arena.
"This was a learning experience, first and foremost," Howard said. "We had a great group of guys who we trained with and Niklas Kronwall, who’s our [NHL Players Association] player rep, he kept us very well informed. We constantly knew what was going on.”
Saturday kicks off a shortened season for the NHL, as teams will play 48 games in less than 100 days. It’s a stretch that many players have likened to a sprint, instead of a full season of 82 games over the course of seven months — sandwiched between the preseason and the playoffs.
“It’s really important to take care of your body and to stay on top of things,” Red Wings right wing Johan Franzen said. “You always have guys who can step into your spot, but in a short season like this, you really want to keep your team healthy and strong, because it is a sprint. You don’t want to lose any ground.”
The Red Wings practiced Thursday at Joe Louis Arena for the first time in a shortened preseason — prior to Thursday, the arena held events for the North American International Auto Show and the team held three days of preseason practices and scrimmages at Compuware Arena in Plymouth, Mich.
Before this week, Joe Louis Arena was empty, hockey-wise.
“I’ve been down here a lot,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Having players down here, it’s a positive thing.”
But, he added, the biggest absence from the Red Wings’ shortened training camp schedule? Exhibition games. Each NHL team plays a handful during training camp, which spans the bulk of September, but because of this year’s shortened schedule, teams go from practices and intrasquad scrimmages right into the regular season.
“Repetition is the key to learning,” Babcock said. “You’ve got to go over and over and over and you’ve got to obviously do it right if you’re going to execute, right? That’s the process we’re in, and it’s just short.”
IN AND OUT: Mikael Samuelsson (groin) skated Thursday morning with the team in practice, and said he expects to be healthy when the Red Wings open Saturday at St. Louis.
Babcock said center Darren Helm (back) will not play in Saturday’s opener.
“I would expect him back after that,” Babcock said.
KNUBLE WORKING OUT: Former University of Michigan standout Mike Knuble is skating with the Red Wings in training camp on a professional tryout. Knuble, 40, is a 15-year NHL veteran who scored eight goals and 13 assists in 83 regular-season and playoff games last season for the Washington Capitals.
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