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Red Wings are anxious to get back in action

Friday, 10.21.2011 / 9:00 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Red Wings are anxious to get back in action
Mike Babcock and his players are both tired of practicing. But once the Wings get back in action this weekend, the veteran team will be extremely busy for the remainder of the calendar year.
Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings are screaming uncle.

"They want to play games and I want to watch them play games," Babcock told NHL.com Wednesday. "It just gets old."

Detroit has a 4-0-0 record so Babcock is at least happy with the early-season results, but the schedule has been frustrating.

The Red Wings opened with a back-to-back against Ottawa and at Colorado before going four consecutive days without a game. They're now in the middle of a five-day stretch between games, but they have a back-to-back this weekend against Columbus and at Washington, and another next weekend against San Jose and at Minnesota.

They have nine back-to-back sets before Jan. 1. They had six in the same span of time last season.

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"It's like a college schedule," goalie Jimmy Howard, who played four years at the University of Maine, told NHL.com. "We practice all week and play Friday-Saturday."

Babcock made the same joke, but he's not laughing. Instead, he's worried about how the light early-season schedule and all the back-to-backs will mess with the Wings later in the season.

"It's a huge concern," Babcock said.

Once their current five-day break is over, the only other time this season they'll go any more than three days without a game is during the All-Star break from Jan. 26-Jan. 30.

Starting Friday, Detroit will play 34 games in 72 days, or basically one every other day until the calendar turns to 2012.

Couple all of that with a roster that includes 41-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom, 38-year-old Tomas Holmstrom, 36-year-old Todd Bertuzzi, and star forwards Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Danny Cleary -- all of whom are in their early 30s -- and it's easy to understand why Babcock wanted more balance early in the season.

"It's going to affect us, for sure," he said. "When you play like this, with all the back-to-backs, you're going to get injuries. Avoiding games early to me leads to too much of a pile-up later, and in the end that catches up to you. I don't know what you can do about it."

Limiting practice time later in the season is one way to combat a packed game schedule in a condensed timeframe, but that's something coaches do anyway.

"You still have to keep the motor running," Babcock said. "You still have to do all the things you need to do."

Babcock's concerns, however warranted they are, will fall on deaf ears as long as the Red Wings keep winning. And yes, they look good on paper with that 4-0-0 record, including two shutouts and a plus-8 goal differential.

Jiri Hudler looks like he's returned to his pre-KHL form with 4 points so far. Seventeen players have registered at least one point. Howard and Ty Conklin have been lights out. The defense has been strong and allowed only 14 shots to Minnesota last Saturday.

"We have the puck a lot. It's the old Red Wings way -- puck control and playing a lot down in the offensive zone," Howard said. "Personally, for me, the hardest game I've played so far is the one the other night against Minnesota where I was just standing down at the other end becoming a spectator, just watching the show the guys were putting on."

That's all well and good, but both Howard and Babcock insist the Red Wings still haven't found their groove, and their first periods have been a struggle offensively.

Maybe they're just nit-picking, or maybe they're sensing a trend. The Wings have allowed only one first-period goal through four games, but they've also scored only one.

"The other team is moving well in the first period and we're trying to find our game legs because we haven't played," Howard said. "You can work hard all week in practice, but still it's different come the games."

Well, more games are coming, starting with a pair this weekend against the Blue Jackets and Capitals. It's a good thing, too, because the Red Wings are sick and tired of practicing.

"Uncle, already," the coach said with a sigh.

Hopefully he isn't screaming that a few months from now, when the back-to-backs have piled up on the League's oldest team.

"The guys are talking in the dressing room about playing more games right now. We've got the itch to play," Howard said. "It gets old waiting around."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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