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Red Wings get Datsyuk back in lineup

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk will make his much-anticipated return to the lineup Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers.

Datsyuk will be back after missing seven games because of a concussion he sustained as a result of an elbow from Ottawa Senators defenseman Jared Cowen on Nov. 23.

The Red Wings managed to post a 5-2-0 record during Datsyuk's absence, but have lost two of their past three. In their most recent game, the Red Wings lost to the Panthers 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday.

"It means a lot [to have Datsyuk back], but it means a lot over the long haul," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after his team's morning skate. "If we're looking at Pavel and counting on Pavel to get 'er done, that's not how it works. We have to be way better than we were last game. The bottom line is Pavel gives us lots of confidence, he's a real good player, but the rest of us gotta play better than we did."

Datsyuk skated on a line Tuesday morning with Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen, who has seven goals and eight assists in 13 games since coming back from an upper-body injury.

Despite missing seven games, Datsyuk is second on the team with 23 points in 24 games.

"It's exciting," Datsyuk said. "It's always tough watching because you wanted to be playing."

The return of Datsyuk clearly is a welcome sight for a Detroit team that has had its share of injuries this season.

"He's a guy that can set the pace of the game, slow it down or speed it up if he wants," veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "It gives you another dimension.

"We've been having some injuries lately and every team goes through that. I think we've handled it pretty good. That's the thing, when guys start to come back, you've got to watch, OK, we've got our best players back, but we've still got to keep playing and playing hard. I'm not too worried about that, but that's one thing you've got to bring up."

Datsyuk's return means a tougher challenge for the Panthers, who outshot the Red Wings 37-23 on Saturday.

"I think he's the best player in the League, so when you put that guy back in the lineup, it certainly puts you in a more competitive situation for them," Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek said. "He's a world-class player and we have to be that much better.

"I think it's a good challenge for us to play against the best players. I take that challenge and I hope that attitude [by] osmosis kind of goes into the team. We want to play against the best teams. We relish that. We understand that they're really good and what they do well. I think that's a good challenge for us."

Also with the Red Wings at BB&T Center on Tuesday was injured forward Henrik Zetterberg, although he still appears some time away from being able to play.

Zetterberg accompanied the Red Wings on their road trip, which also will take them to Tampa Bay on Thursday. He has missed three games because of a back injury that has made it painful for him just to sit.

"Been away from the team for a bit, so I decided to come down and be with the guys," Zetterberg said. "Sitting is the worst. I think everyone with back issues knows that, but obviously it got better. That's one reason I decided to come down here too. It wasn't that bad flying down here. But I'm happy to be here and hopefully we get a couple of wins."

Zetterberg said he hasn't been able to do any off-ice workouts and has no timetable as to when he'll be able to practice.

"It looks like we're doing the right things, but it just takes time," Zetterberg said. "Gotta be doing the right things. Right now we've made some progress and hopefully we continue that.

"No timetable yet. We've just got to see how I progress and how I kind of feel for each step. Right now it's just starting to move again and do some rehab stuff. Then we'll see what the next step is. Hopefully I can start doing some [workouts] soon. Going a little crazy here."

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