DETROIT -- Mike Modano probably could return from a lengthy injury stint Thursday against the Dallas Stars, but will defer to Saturday's road game against the Buffalo Sabres instead.
The reason has a lot to do with Modano's wish to keep his return from wrist surgery low key to start. Coming back against the Stars, the franchise that drafted him with the first pick of the 1988 Entry Draft when the franchise was in Minnesota and who he spent 20 years playing for, would be anything but low-key.
In that span he helped the team win the 1999 Stanley Cup while becoming the face of the franchise, not to mention arguably the greatest U.S.-born player in NHL history.
"There was a chance (to return against Dallas), but ... of all games to come back after such a long lay-off, I think the expectations are a little too high for that one," said Modano, who had severed tendons in his wrist after a skate blade cut him during a Nov. 26 game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. "(I'll) just start in Buffalo and it's going to be five games in eight days on that trip. So it'll be some crucial games here coming down the stretch."
Modano, who participated in Tuesday's morning skate, has been on the ice with the team for several weeks. He's also worked hard off the ice with a fitness expert from Birmingham, Mich., trying to get his conditioning close to where it was when he got hurt.
"There's still some nerve issues there," Modano, who will center Detroit's third line and man one of the points on the second power-play, said of his wrist and hand. "That total sensation isn't back, and that's going to be a long time, but the strength is there. It feels good shooting. As far as getting involved in traffic and guys pushing on it, it feels good. The big test is Saturday."
Don't, however, expect to see an immediate impact upon his return. That's not what Detroit is asking him to do, for starters, and it's probably not what Modano is capable of doing regardless of the injury. Detroit likes his experience, skating and shot from the point most -- especially as the Stanley Cup Playoffs creep closer.
"It's going to take some time to get up and running," said Modano, who has 2 goals and 8 points in 20 games. "But (there are) 21 games from (Saturday) on until the end, so there's a lot of time left."
Modano has a one-year contract, so this potentially could be the only season Modano, who grew up in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, Mich., has with his hometown team. Whether he comes back for another season will depend on two things -- how the rest of this season goes and whether Detroit General Manager Ken Holland wants to extend an offer.
"I think (this season) really will determine how I feel (about) coming back," Modano said. "(I'm) just trying to do anything possible to try and get in the best shape I can and get prepared mentally and physically, and see if I can make a real big push here and be an impact (player) they're hoping for me to be in the spring."
Filppula aiming for Thursday -- Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula participated in Tuesday's skate, but said Wednesday's full practice will be a better gauge regarding his return from a sprained knee.
Filppula hopes to return on Thursday against the Stars, but if not it's likely he'll be ready for Saturday's game against Buffalo.
Niemi brimming with confidence -- The numbers speak for themselves for San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, who on Monday was named the NHL's First Star of the Week.
Niemi, 27, went 3-0-0 with a 0.98 goals-against average and .963 save percentage last week. His GAA for the season now is 2.43 to go with a 20-15-3 record after struggling early this season. Niemi, who will start Tuesday against the Red Wings, said confidence and good defense are the biggest reasons for his turnaround.
"Confidence is huge, and when you play well and win games it's even better," Niemi told NHL.com. "I have more games in the NHL now, so I'm more confident and more patient, for sure. Last year, pretty much the whole year was more about ... just being more alert and worrying more. I'm more comfortable now."
San Jose coach Todd McLellan said he's now seeing the Niemi he saw in the playoffs last season, when he helped the Chicago Blackhawks sweep the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals before winning the Stanley Cup.
"He's more comfortable, but also has people playing better in front of him," McLellan said. "He gets a little more support defensively from a lot of players that maybe didn't quite have it at the beginning of the year. Secondly, he's getting more and more comfortable in how we play and what we try to do. Third is the confidence level is up. It makes it easier for him when he has those three factors going his way."