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Babcock says players must relax

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Henrik Zetterberg reacts to one of Pavel Datsyuk's two goals against Winnipeg last week. The Wings' captain has points in seven of the last nine games. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Relax.

That was the prevailing message from Red Wings coach Mike Babcock to his players during Wednesday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena.

“Breathe, just play,” Babcock said. “We have to get back to playing and we talk about this a lot over the years. We’ve had tough stretches every year that I’ve been here and as much as you have to work real hard and compete real hard, it’s still not work hockey; it’s play hockey.”

The Red Wings are winless in seven overall (0-2-5) and winless in eight straight at The Joe (0-2-6), where they haven’t won since Oct. 15. Prior to Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Nashville, the Wings lost their previous three games in shootouts and two before then in overtime.

“This is adversity. We’re 22 games into the season and we’re at eight winless games at home,” Wings forward Daniel Cleary said. “We’re a team that prides ourselves on being a great home team. When teams come into The Joe and they’re saying it’s a hard game for them, we have to get back to that.

“We’re a prideful group. We want to work hard for our fans who give us great support. It’s just one of those situations in the season and it happens to just about every team. We have to stick together and grind out a 2-1 game. That’s how you’re going to get back on a winning streak, put a few games together like that and then we have our swagger back.”

Following the latest loss, captain Henrik Zetterberg said the team’s play, particularly on home ice, has been less fluid lately and more robotic.

“Like Transformer. Everybody tries to help each other, sometimes we over-play,” said Pavel Datsyuk, who has a team-high 11 goals. “We need more confidence and play hockey.”

Other than Zetterberg and Datsyuk, Detroit has struggled to score, potting just 13 goals in their last eight home games, while suffering shutouts to former Western Conference rivals San Jose on Oct. 21 and Nashville.

Continuity isn’t the issue, Babcock said, but some level of mental fatigue could be setting into the Wings’ locker room.

“The thing about it is we go over and over and over our structure so when you get on the ice you don’t think so you can play fast,” Babcock said. “It doesn’t appear to me that we’re doing that. It appears to me that we’re over-thinking.”

It doesn’t help that injuries have been an issue for the Wings’ forward lines with Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss still recovering from sore groins. As of today, Weiss is close to returning to the lineup. Following practice he said he hopes to play this weekend, either Saturday against Ottawa at home, or Sunday at Buffalo.

Without the two veterans in the lineup, the Wings have elected to go with 11 forwards in two of the last three games. As for Thursday’s game against Carolina, Babcock said he’ll consider splitting up Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

“We’ll see tomorrow, they weren’t together in practice today,” Babcock said. “We have to win a game, right? So whatever we have to do to win a game and get going from there so everyone can breathe a little bit.”

The Wings desperately need more offense – they’re in the bottom third in league scoring, ranked No. 21 with 2.46 goals per game – and with defenseman Danny DeKesyer (separated shoulder) going on long-term injured reserve it’s possible that Gustav Nyquist could be called up from Grand Rapids soon.

The 24-year-old Nyquist is currently ranked tied for fourth in AHL scoring with seven goals and 21 points in 15 games with the Griffins.

Asked about the possibility of bringing Nyquist to Detroit, Babcock would only say, “We’ll see tomorrow.”

HURRICANE WARNING: The Red Wings host Carolina Thursday at The Joe. The Hurricanes, who are in fourth-place in the Metropolitan Division, are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games.

Weiss’s overtime goal, his first as a Red Wing, lifted Detroit over the Hurricames, 3-2, last month in Raleigh.

“We played them once before,” Babcock said. “I just watched them play Boston two nights ago, I though they played really well. They’re fast, they’re back-end mobile, they can move the puck, they got good goaltending in (Cam) Ward. We know we’re going to have a good team in here ... every night we play it’s a good team.

“Let’s be honest, we haven’t beat anybody like a drum all year, well, one time. But the reality is it’s a tight game each and every night. It’s tied or you’re up one or you’re down one going into the third. You have to find away to win.”

INJURY UPDATE: Weiss practiced with the team again Wednesday and said he’s closer to returning to the lineup, hopefully by the weekend.

“I think that’s the plan,” he said. “I felt good again today, no issues. It’s a matter of getting a couple more practices in and be ready for hopefully this weekend.”

Alfredsson skated for a short time before the Red Wings’ practice and defenseman Kyle Quincey was given the day off to rest what Babcock called, “bumps and bruises.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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