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Red Wings-Blue Jackets Preview @NHLdotcom

Detroit coach Mike Babcock served as the Red Wings' lone representative at the All-Star game over the weekend, with key defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and center Pavel Datsyuk both sidelined by injuries.

But while Babcock is expected back behind the bench for the defending Stanley Cup champions as the NHL resumes play on Tuesday night, the Red Wings won't have either of their stars available as they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Lidstrom - a six-time Norris Trophy-winner and Detroit's captain - and Datsyuk, who is leading the Red Wings (31-9-6) with 37 assists and 56 points, were both selected as reserves for the Western Conference's All-Star squad, for which Babcock served as an assistant.

The players, however, turned down their invitations, citing ankle and hip injuries, respectively.

But it was their decision not to make the trip to Montreal that will keep them out against Columbus (22-20-5). Last year, the league's general managers decided that All-Stars who skip the weekend's events must also miss their team's first game after the break.

"We've all got obligations to the fans, the rights-holders," NHL director of operations and league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said. "This game is being televised around the world. I feel bad for Nicklas Lidstrom. He's been here how many years now? It's unfair that he gets caught in this web."

Without two of its top players, Central Division-leading Detroit looks to avoid its first three-game slide since an 0-3-1 stretch from Feb. 22-29.

In their final game before the All-Star break, the Red Wings held a 37-27 advantage on shots - the 18th time in 20 games they've outshot an opponent - but lost 6-3 at Phoenix last Tuesday night. Datsyuk set up both of Lidstrom's power-play goals as Detroit fell to 2-2-1 on its season-high six-game swing.

"We just went through two pages of scoring chances but you've got to play without the puck, too," said Babcock, whose team is 8-2-1 since Dec. 30.

The Red Wings, though, have capitalized on their offensive opportunities versus Columbus, scoring 18 goals in winning the last five meetings overall.

Datsyuk had a goal and four assists, while Lidstrom had two assists in this season's first two matchups - both at Detroit.

With those players sidelined, the Red Wings will instead be relying on high-scoring forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Marian Hossa.

Zetterberg, third on Detroit with 42 points, has seven goals and four assists during a seven-game point streak versus Columbus, while Hossa has nine goals and four assists in his last seven matchups.

Hossa's 22 goals pace a Detroit offense that is averaging a league-best 3.8 goals.

The Red Wings likely will face Columbus rookie Steve Mason, who leads the NHL with a 2.05 goals-against average and six shutouts. He made 37 saves in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings on Jan. 6.

Mason posted a 2.13 GAA, while helping Columbus win eight of its last 13 games (8-4-1) to move within two points of the West's final playoff spot.

However, both he and the Blue Jackets - still without a postseason berth since entering the league in 2000 - stumbled heading into the All-Star break. Mason conceded 15 goals as Columbus went 1-2-1 in its final four games leading to the All-Star break and squandered four one-goal leads in a 5-4 shootout loss at Calgary on Wednesday.

"We have never really been in this position as a franchise, and games like these are things that a young team has to learn," said All-Star forward Rick Nash, who leads the Blue Jackets with 19 goals and 43 points.

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