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Red Wings-Blackhawks Preview

The Detroit Red Wings hoped the return of Jimmy Howard would vault them toward the top of the Eastern Conference, but it's had the opposite effect.

The sliding Red Wings look to right the ship Wednesday night when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks.

Detroit (31-14-10) has yet to win since Howard returned from injured reserve last Wednesday, although he was hardly at fault in Monday's 2-0 defeat to Montreal.

"I felt really good," Howard, who stopped 27 of 28 shots, told the Red Wings' official website. "Halfway through (Saturday's 5-4 shootout loss to Winnipeg) I started feeling more and more at home out there and it transferred over to tonight and hopefully it transfers even more into Chicago."

Howard produced a similar performance in his last outing against the Blackhawks, stopping 25 shots in a 4-1 victory Nov. 14. Including the postseason, he had lost his previous four meetings behind a 3.47 goals-against average.

Chicago (35-18-4) has found its groove at the United Center with four games remaining on a season-high eight-game homestand. The Blackhawks earned at least one point in the first two before beating New Jersey 3-1 on Friday and Pittsburgh 2-1 in a shootout Sunday.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp converted in the shootout as the Blackhawks improved to 4-0-2 in their last six overall. Chicago leads the NHL with a 46.4 shootout percentage.

"I mean Jonny and Kaner, that's a 1-2 punch that's as good as any team in the league, and then Sharpy ends up finishing it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "So it was necessary today, and it's been effective for us this year."

Detroit would be at a clear disadvantage should Wednesday's game go to the tiebreaker, as the Red Wings' 54.5 shootout save percentage is tied for worst in the league.

Saturday's shootout loss is part of a three-game skid for Detroit, which suffered through an 0-2-4 slide Dec. 10-21 but hasn't lost consecutive games in regulation since March 25-27.

These teams are among the best in the NHL in goals allowed per game, as Chicago gives up an average of 2.26 and Detroit is at 2.42. The Blackhawks have allowed 10 goals during a 3-0-2 stretch at home, where they post 39.5 shots on goal per game to lead the NHL.

Kane leads the league with 63 points, while Marian Hossa has seven goals in his last five games. Hossa had a goal and two assists as the Blackhawks won 4-1 in Detroit's last visit to Chicago on March 16.

Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk has seven points in his last seven games, but he's been held to three points in his past 12 - including the playoffs - against Chicago.

Corey Crawford has played a big part in stifling Datsyuk, as he's 16-6-3 with a 1.98 GAA in 26 appearances against the Red Wings.

Petr Mrazek, who went 8-2-0 during Howard's absence, was assigned to Grand Rapids of the AHL on Tuesday, leaving Jonas Gustavsson as the primary backup.

The Red Wings lead the league with a 26.0 power-play percentage and are at 38.7 (12 for 31) over the last 11. Chicago is near the top of the NHL with an 87.9 penalty-kill percentage and has killed 14 of 15 chances over the past eight.

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