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Red Wings use outdoor practice to lift spirits

by Brian Hedger

DETROIT -- The puck magician exited the rink inside Comerica Park on Wednesday afternoon and summed up the Detroit Red Wings' current situation as only he could.

"No black," said Pavel Datsyuk, when asked why he didn't wear eye black during an outdoor practice that was open to the public. "[Don't] need it. In Detroit, no sunny days. We start winning, it might be sunny."

His answer drew a round of laughs but was apt for the injury-plagued Red Wings, who were blown out 5-2 by the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena and haven't won in six games.

Like the famous song lyric, ain't no sunshine for the Red Wings when the wins are gone. And wins are harder to get with almost half the usual roster sidelined by various injuries.

Detroit is missing six of its top-nine forwards, including captain Henrik Zetterberg, along with goalie Jimmy Howard and top-four rookie defenseman Danny DeKeyser. The Red Wings also have a 5-9-6 record on home ice and a vexing five-game losing streak at Joe Louis Arena they'd like to snap Thursday night against the Calgary Flames.


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There's also some concern about Daniel Alfredsson's status after he didn't participate in the outdoor practice.

All things considered, taking it outside might've been perfect timing. The Red Wings got to breathe in some cold air and take their mind off their woes. Datsyuk put it this way: "It's fresh air, what we needed … a little bit of breathe."

It also gave Red Wings fans that showed up to watch a chance to lift their team's spirits a little as the players entered and exited the field through the dugouts. There was a team meeting prior to the workout, but for about an hour the Red Wings got a chance to clear their minds a bit in the midst of the Detroit Tigers' home in the summer.

"It was a good day for us," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "I thought it was a pretty good skate. We got good pace out there and it was fun. I think the fun is practicing outdoors and skating outdoors. I thought the skate … we try to keep the focus up and try to do the right things out there."

Less than 24 hours earlier, Kronwall stood in front of reporters following the loss to the Ducks and vented his frustrations. He called the effort "embarrassing," and said the Red Wings were capable of much better, even with all the injured regulars watching in street clothes.

A day later Kronwall sung the same tune, with only slightly softer background music.

"To be honest with you, you don't feel very good when you're losing, and I think everyone feels the same way," he said. "We have to stop this right now. Enough's enough. It's almost like we've been doing enough talking. We know what to do out there. It's a matter of going out there and actually doing it, not just saying we should do it."

Getting away from "The Joe" for a day, into the open air of Comerica Park, might help the cause. Instead of dwelling on all the recent losses, the Red Wings were cheered when they emerged from the dugout and trudged toward the rink.

They skated through drills at top speed, went over what they needed to address and then soaked in the atmosphere as much as possible.

"It was fun to come out here and skate," said forward Justin Abdelkader, who's improving but not ready to return from a concussion that's held him out two games. "I was glad I got the opportunity to do that. This weather's perfect right now. As long as it's not too much colder, I think it'll be alright."

After practice, several Red Wings players participated in a family and friends skate on the rink that's hosting the SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival, a two-week extravaganza of hockey leading up to the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium.

They'll also get a chance to skate with their families at Michigan Stadium the day before the Winter Classic against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but this was another chance to forge some lasting memories.

There weren't nearly as many people in the stands Wednesday, but the surroundings of a ballpark did conjure up memories of the 2009 Winter Classic held at Wrigley Field in Chicago, when the Red Wings beat the host Chicago Blackhawks 6-4 on a frozen afternoon.

"It’s a nice venue, a beautiful spot," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said of Comerica Park. "The Tigers have had a lot of success here, so hopefully that’ll rub off on us. When I walked out at Wrigley, that’s what it felt like walking out there today."

It almost didn't happen after the blowout loss the night before.

"When you plan it initially, it’s just part of your team-building process you go through with your team," Babcock said of the outdoor workout. "After last night’s game, I was going to cancel it, to be honest with you. Because we had fans coming, we didn’t. It’s always good not to react to those situations. It was good. We had a good practice, a good meeting, we have to get things right."

Datsyuk put it in his own words.

"We're really having a tough time to breathe now," he said. "We need, like, [to] win 10 in a row to be helped a lot."

Winning one would be a good start.

"It's not [an] easy situation," forward Tomas Tatar said. "I think it's just all about maybe one game, you know, you want to get out from a slump. After one win you might gain your confidence again and start to play good. I bet everybody will regroup and we'll play good [Thursday]."

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