DETROIT – After missing six of the past eight games with a sore groin, Pavel Datsyuk is expected to return tonight when the Red Wings host the Philadelphia Flyers at Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s very important for us to have him back,” Stephen Weiss said. “He’s one of the best two-way players in the game if not the best. It’s a big boost to our lineup to have him back and we’re looking forward to it. Anytime he misses a game, it seems like it’s too long.”
In all, Datsyuk has missed 11 games this season, including the first five as he recovered from a separated shoulder sustained in the preseason. However, when he’s been in the lineup, the Magic Man has been productive, collecting five goals and six assists in 10 games.
Tonight, the Wings expect to have Datsyuk skating on a very unique all-center line with Weiss and Darren Helm, at least to start the game.
“We might be the only line in the NHL with three natural centers, so we should have success on the dot, hopefully, and some pretty good skill with Pav and Weisser,” said Helm, who has two goals and eight points in 21 games. “We have to find a way to click pretty early.”
Chemistry shouldn’t be an issue as it rarely is for anyone playing with Datsyuk as he seems to elevate everyone’s game around him. Former Red Wings forward Kris Draper used to say playing on Datsyuk’s line was like winning the lottery.
“It definitely feels that way,” Weiss said. “When I saw the sheet this morning I had a little grin on my face. He makes the game a lot easier for the guys that play around him, so I’m looking forward to that. … It’s special. He’s a guy I grew up watching, really and now to have a chance to play with him, it’s pretty cool.”
While coach Mike Babcock doesn't know what to expect in Datsyuk's return, the hope is that with this new line combination all three centers can get on a roll quickly.
“As you get a little older in your career your physical fitness and the amount of care you take in keeping your body healthy is so important,” Babcock said. “He’s a high-end player for us. I haven’t put him with (Henrik Zetterberg) on purpose just because. If he gets going maybe I’ll do that but right now leave him where he is and play him on a separate power play.
“I don’t think you can ever go wrong with having Datsyuk in your lineup.”
Weiss scored two goals Monday – including the game-winner – in his first game since returning from a rehabilitation assignment with AHL Grand Rapids last weekend. While he never envisioned playing on Datsyuk’s line, Weiss said he’s looking forward to the privilege but must keep it all in perspective.
“All three centers, looks good if we get kicked out of the faceoffs we should be OK in that department,” Weiss said. “We’ll just have to talk a lot and make sure that we’re communicating and talking before the game, because Helmer and I are playing different positions and I think Pavel will be alright.
“It’s the same mentality as last game, not try to over do it. Just try to keep it simple and go to the net. That seemed to work last game, so just try to get pucks to the net and bang some more rebounds in.”
Besides being all centers, the line of Helm-Datsyuk-Weiss has also missed significant playing time since 2011-12 with a combined 306 missed regular-season games.
To make room in the lineup for Datsyuk's return, forward Joakim Andersson is a healthy scratch and Tomas Jurco is bumped to the fourth-line where he will play with center Luke Glendening and forward Drew Miller.