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Cleary returns for showdown vs. Caps

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings
Daniel Cleary will be back in the Red Wings' lineup tonight, returning to his spot on the third line and as a net-front on the second power-play unit. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROITDaniel Cleary will return to the Red Wings’ lineup tonight against the Washington Capitals.

The winger was a healthy scratch in a 3-2 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday.

“For a guy of his hockey sense and his ability he’s got to be a factor every night and I don’t see that,” coach Mike Babcock said earlier this week.

Cleary will replace rookie Tomas Tatar on the third line, joining center Joakim Andersson and Mikael Samuelsson.

Cleary has recorded one goal and two assist in 18 games this season, and is looking forward to getting back in the lineup and helping Detroit avoid its first seven-game home winless streak in 24 years.

“Obviously we have to get back to winning at home, haven’t been very good lately so I’m excited and have to just go out and play well,” Cleary said. “I’m not going to change how I play, just go out and work hard and try to be effective on the forecheck and try to provide some offense.”

Detroit’s offense has struggled this season, as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have accounted for 40 percent of the team’s goals. The Euro Twins’ linemate Todd Bertuzzi has recorded five goals, but no one else on the roster has notched more than three.

Babcock has changed the Red Wings’ lineup to account for injuries and to generate more offense from other lines, but knows a six-game winless skid isn’t helping his team’s confidence.

“No question. Confidence is fleeting in the NHL,” Babcock said. “It’s amazing to me how a guy can score goals all the time and then suddenly not score for a while. It’s the same with your team, so you got to stay the course. I thought we played well enough to win last game and we didn’t, so we can hang our head and feel bad for ourselves or we can do the same thing again. We got to do it in a more consistent basis and do it right and we’ll be all right.’’

Jonathan Ericsson will also return to the lineup tonight after missing 10 games with a shoulder injury. His presence with Niklas Kronwall in the top defensive pairing will be key against the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin.

“We’re a better team with him,” Babcock said of Ericsson. “The forwards need the puck and he can do that plus play against real good players.

“Their third line scores big time. We’re going to need our top two pairs probably play against three lines so it’s important to have a real good top two.”

The Red Wings went 3-2-5 in the 10 games Ericsson missed. The defenseman has one goal and two assists in the nine games that he’s appeared in this season, and he’s looking forward to being tested by Ovechkin.

“It’s a good test right away,” Ericsson said. “I think so. It’s fun. Hopefully I can help out.”

Washington enters Joe Louis Arena with the No. 2 power play and No. 1 penalty kill in the league, led by Ovechkin, who has recorded 14 goals in 17 games this season. Nicklas Backstrom leads the Capitals with 15 assists, centering the top line with Ovechkin and Brooks Laich, and poses another threat to the Red Wings with his passing capabilities.

“You’ve just got to minimize his space and time,” Henrik Zetterberg said of Ovechkin. “Obviously, he’s got a great shot and finds a way to always be open it seems. Playing with Backstrom, too, he’s a really good disher. You’ve just got to be aware of them whenever they’re out there and try to have the puck as much as possible.”

EAVES CLEARS: Veteran forward Patrick Eaves cleared waivers at noon today. Eaves, who had no points and was a minus-2 in three games with the Red Wings, has been assigned to the team’s minor-league club in Grand Rapids.

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