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Datsyuk to miss 2-3 weeks after knee surgery

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- There have been a few bumps in the road recently for the Detroit Red Wings, but the biggest yet came Tuesday.

Star center Pavel Datsyuk -- who recently was ranked No. 1 in six different categories of an NHLPA/CBC players poll released this past weekend -- underwent a minor surgical procedure on his knee Tuesday morning and will miss 2-3 weeks of action.

"Pav is going to be out a couple of weeks with minor arthroscopic surgery this morning," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Tuesday in Chicago, where his team will face the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2). "Everything is real good. He got a fragment in his knee, an old thing we wanted to clean up here prior to playoff time, so he'll be out a couple weeks. So it's a good opportunity for someone else."

The Red Wings have won six straight games, all at Joe Louis Arena, and recently broke the NHL record with 23 straight home wins -- which they'll try to extend to 24 on Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks. First for Detroit, however, is the Blackhawks, who will be without their top center, Jonathan Toews, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Pavel Datsyuk
Center - DET
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 43 | PTS: 59
SOG: 145 | +/-: 18
Datsyuk, however, will miss at least the next two weeks, and possibly longer.

"Couple weeks minimum, three weeks maximum," said Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said. "Somewhere in that time frame and he should be back on the ice playing. It's nothing significant. The (arthroscopic) surgery was very good. The doctor said after the meeting there it was something he's glad they got handled now, because maybe down the road it could've been something that Pav might've wanted to get done a month ago."

Holland said Datsyuk's mention of something wrong with his knee Monday was the first he had heard of it. Datsyuk's recent performance also hadn't raised concerns. In fact, he scored the game-winning goal against the Nashville Predators last Friday with just 5.8 seconds left in regulation to extend the Red Wings' home winning streak to 22 games.

Datsyuk didn't record a point in Detroit's latest win, a 3-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks, but nothing seemed to be out of sorts with him to the casual eye. His absence, though, could be pretty noticeable.

Filling in for Datsyuk in the middle on the top line will be star forward Henrik Zetterberg, who's playing through his own lower-body injury -- the nature of which hasn't been disclosed. Babcock said he plans to use Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm and rookie Cory Emmerton as his top four centers until Datsyuk returns, but he also has the luxury of former centers Justin Abdelkader and Johan Franzen if he wants to change it up.

"We've had a lot of centers we've converted to wings," Holland said. "I talked to Babs (Babcock) this morning and he's got a couple of different options, but Abdelkader, Filppula and Franzen are all guys who were centers before they got to Detroit and we converted them to the wing, so they can go back."

If called upon, Abdelkader said he's ready. He's been playing most of the season centering the fourth line until injuries caused him to move up to right wing on the third line. Danny Cleary is poised to return from a knee injury of his own on Tuesday, but with Datsyuk out, Abdelkader will stay on the right side of Darren Helm on the third line and Cleary will move into the top six.

"It's always a big thing having depth and guys who can play different roles," Abdelkader said. "I think (Datsyuk) is the best overall player in the game, so it's tough losing him. It's going to be a big loss. Hopefully we can all come together and fill the void together. It's just part of hockey. You know there's going to be injuries."

It's just that the challenge becomes tougher when it happens to players the caliber of Datsyuk, who has 16 goals and 43 assists, and his 59 points are ninth in the League entering Tuesday's games. Datsyuk also is a huge help defensively, always ranking near the NHL's best in takeaways and holding onto the puck -- seemingly with ease -- for long stretches of time.

"It gives an opportunity for some other guys to step up," said Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who will start for the first time in eight games after breaking his index finger Feb. 2 in Vancouver. "You can’t really replace Pav, but it gives other guys an opportunity to step up and take on a bigger role that on most normal nights they wouldn't have."

However, all of those "other guys" already are on the NHL roster and won't come from the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League. The Red Wings are high on the prospects of skilled forwards such as Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, but won't recall either of them -- at least right away -- to replace Datsyuk's roster spot.

"We like the way the kids have played (in the AHL)," Holland said. "We move people slow. As long as the young players understand what we're trying to accomplish as an organization, I think a young player is better off playing 20 minutes in the minors than eight minutes in the NHL and just surviving. I like when they're hanging onto the puck and playing important minutes and they're on the ice in late-game situations and they're important people -- because it takes a while for them to become important people at the NHL level, where we're trying to win every night."

He used Helm and Abdelkader as prime examples -- both Detroit draft picks who have worked their way into every-game roles for one of the League's best teams.

"You look at Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, we like the way their careers are going," Holland said. "They're slowly working their way from the fourth line to the third line and somebody's going to work their way from Grand Rapids to our fourth line, like Emmerton and (Jan Mursak). When you've got Zetterberg and Franzen, Datsyuk, Cleary and Bertuzzi, it's hard for kids to move by those guys."

Likewise, Holland said Datsyuk's injury doesn't change his priorities with Monday's trade deadline fast approaching. The Wings still are looking for a veteran defenseman if they can get one at the right price, along with a veteran forward who can add depth to the mix.

Fans, therefore, shouldn't expect Holland to make a splashy move to try and land a star to replace Datsyuk.

"He's coming back," Holland said. "When you got Pavel Datsyuk … there's not many Pavel Datsyuks out in the marketplace. (The surgery) is minor. After Saturday, we got one game in a week, so we'll see. Again, it's nothing major."

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