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Wings close to having full complement on defense

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- It seems like ages ago, but only a month has passed since the Detroit Red Wings traded to get 26-year old Kyle Quincey and create a logjam on their blue line.

At that point, Detroit had eight NHL defensemen and the Wings talked about how important that kind of depth heading into the playoffs.

Rookie Brendan Smith wasn't even up from the minors yet, as he was still developing with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. Four days later, in Quincey's second game back with the team that originally drafted him, the Red Wings quickly had their depth challenged when three defensemen got hurt against Quincey's former team, the Colorado Avalanche.

Quincey strained his groin, captain Nicklas Lidstrom sustained a deep bone bruise in his ankle and Jonathan Ericsson fractured his wrist. While Quincey only missed one game, Lidstrom and Ericsson have both missed 11 straight.

Red Wing veteran Mike Commodore was also dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning hours before the trade deadline expired and then Jakub Kindl left the lineup with an oblique strain that's kept him out for eight games. Smith was recalled from the minors and played solidly, but the Wings are currently without some key pieces on the back end -- especially Lidstrom and Ericsson.

Lidstrom, who is a game-time decision Saturday night against Carolina, is the quarterback of the power play. Ericsson was a big part of the penalty kill with his big frame.

"I think we're going to get [Ericsson] back for next game [Monday]," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "Anytime you lose three [defensemen] like that and your starting goalie and [Pavel Datsyuk] and all these guys ... you know, we've been skinny for a while here. But I think it's been good for our game honestly. You have to work real hard at your game and improving your game defensively because you can't score."

That could start to change in a hurry over the next week, as several of Detroit's injured players start to make their way back into games with the regular season winding down.

Lidstrom might be the first to return, but Ericsson said he's not far off.

"It's been better every day," he said after on-ice work Saturday morning. "I notice the difference every day. It feels good to me. It's in progress and getting closer every day. I said I was ready, but the doctors have their say, too. I think they're making probably the smartest choices, too, if I'm playing or not. Gotta listen to what they're saying, too. It feels pretty good. I feel like I'm close anyway."

Still, he needs to pass a few more tests in order to get clearance.

"There's a few things I kind of need to improve before I'm game ready," Ericsson said. "My range is pretty good, but I'm pretty weak at some spots and I'm not pain-free or anything like that ... so we don't want to make anything worse."

Kindl, however, is ready to go. He'll get back in the lineup Saturday night after dealing with an oblique strain for the first time in his career.

"It's a part of the body you're using it for everything, like stickhandling, shooting [and] skating, so it was a part I couldn't do but now I feel really good and I'm ready to go," he said. "It's part of our sport, injuries. I had to deal with it and I did everything I could to stay in shape and worked hard. Finally I feel good."
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