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Posted: Friday November 13, 2009 4:38PM; Updated: Tuesday November 17, 2009 4:01PM
Allan Muir
Allan Muir>INSIDE THE NHL

Managing the kids (cont.)

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Jamming The Crease

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Jimmy Howard has a been a bit of a circus act so far, but against the Canucks on Nov. 12, he was 31 saves-worth of solid.
AP

Jimmy Howard's sloppy play in a 6-5 shootout loss to Edmonton on Oct. 29 left Red Wings fans pining for the good old days of Corrado Micalef and Ken Holland (yes, that Ken Holland). Fast-forward two weeks and there's a more relaxed atmosphere around the JLA. They're probably not quite ready to commit to stitching Howard's name and number on a new sweater, but after strong back-to-back efforts against Columbus and Vancouver, fans probably are at least willing to climb in off the ledge.

Not that the Wings themselves were quite so concerned, but the rookie's rock-solid performances in relief of a sick Chris Osgood allowed the injury-riddled team to focus on something other than the need for a reliable veteran backup.

"What needed to happen to Jimmy is what happened here, throwing up two one-goal games," said coach Mike Babcock, who praised Howard's approach after a 3-1 win over the Canucks. "He was above the blue paint tonight. He was square [to the shooter]. I thought he read the play well. And that's a good sign."

Howard was sensational in the first half when the Detroit end was under siege. The Wings were outshot 22-8 through the first 30 minutes, and the only puck that eluded him was a fortunate bounce off the body of Mason Raymond.

Two more keys to his success: improved lateral movement and aggressive use of his stick to break up chances in front. Both speak to increased confidence in his game.

He'll need it. He's expected to start again Saturday against Anaheim, a team well situated to take advantage of numerous turnovers of the kind committed by the Wings against Vancouver. With Osgood's workload set to be reduced significantly this season, Howard faces an enormous career opportunity. For the first time this season, there's reason to believe he can snatch it.

LEAFS PATCH HOLE IN SPITS

A decision this week by the Maple Leafs to return prospect Dale Mitchell to his former junior team sure feels like a turn of quid pro quo. Just last month, Leafs' prospect Jesse Blacker (58th overall, 2009) requested a trade from the Windsor Spitfires to a team where he could play a more prominent role and, presumably, expedite his development. Though they took a hit to their defensive depth, the Spits accommodated the 18-year-old by sending him to the Owen Sound Attack.

On Wednesday, the Leafs decided that Mitchell, a lightning-quick winger equally adept at agitating as scoring, wasn't getting enough ice with the AHL Toronto Marlies. But instead of demoting him to the ECHL, they returned the 20-year-old to the OHL, where he'll add another layer of depth and experience to a Windsor team that now looks like an even better bet to repeat as Memorial Cup champs. ..

BIG BATTLE

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Buffalo's rookie blueliner Tyler Myers is the NHL's next big thing.
Elsa

It's not often that YouTube lets me down, but apparently no one uploaded my favorite moment of last week: a big collision between the NHL's two biggest men: Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers. The Sabres' 6-8 rookie defender roamed deep into the offensive zone midway through the first period before setting his sights on the 6-9 defending Norris-winner who was digging out the puck from along the end boards. Three strides later, Myers launched a shoulder into Chara...and promptly was planted on his hind end. At this point, Myers still gives up the inch, and maybe 30 pounds, to Big Z, but you have to think it won't be long before Big Tex gets to return the favor...

TAKING THE PLEDGE

Helpful excerpt from an e-mail sent to me by an Eastern Conference scout in the wake of last week's 2010 Entry Draft preview column: "Were you sober when you decided to leave out [Maxim] Kitsyn?"

Don't think I'd quite hit the Bukowski Line when the 6-3, 194 left winger was cut from the list of the Top 30 prospects, but I'll try to keep my wits about me while watching him when the Subway Super Series gets underway Monday in Drummondville, Quebec. The Russian side traveling over for six games against the best in Canada's three junior leagues is marred by several glaring omissions (Kirill Kabanov, Vladimir Tarasenko and Stanislav Galiev in particular), but that creates an opportunity for Kitsyn to re-establish himself as an elite prospect.

Kitsyn's name had considerable heat early last season when the then-16-year-old scored three goals in his first three games with Metallurg of the KHL, but cooled after a couple of nondescript tournament appearances. His performance in this series, and the World Juniors, will be critical to restoring his stock. Other draft-eligible names to watch: Alexander Burmistrov (who'll play only in the games in Barrie and Windsor) and Ivan Telegin. The Russian side also features Igor Bobkov (Anaheim, 2009) and Kirill Petrov (New York Islanders, 2008).

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