Abdelkader scored early in the second period and added an empty-netter for Detroit, which notched a second win in three games.
Jonas Gustavsson started in net and stopped all eight shots he faced before leaving after the first period with dizziness.
Howard relieved and made 16 saves over the final two periods to wrap up the first combined shutout for the Red Wings since 2001.
Eddie Lack turned aside 28-of-29 shots for the Canucks, who dropped a fourth straight in the return of Coach John Tortorella following a six-game suspension.
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