DETROIT – Pavel Datsyuk was excited to be back on the ice with his Red Wings’ teammates Tuesday, and hopes to be a game-time decision Wednesday.
The superstar center has been sidelined since early March after team doctors and trainers decided his knee injury would benefit from the rest and inactivity.
Datsyuk, who has battled a knee injury since early January, has skated by himself for the last week. He has said before that he’ll need two or three good practices with the team before he declares himself physically fit to play.
However, Datsyuk wouldn’t count out the possibility of playing against the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference when the Red Wings host the Boston Bruins Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
“I don’t know. Game-time decision,” he said. “We’ll see tomorrow how I feel.”
Datsyuk has missed the past 15 games, and 29 of 33 games since early January. He has produced 15 goals and 33 points in 39 games with the Red Wings this season.
Wings coach Mike Babcock said he isn’t expecting Datsyuk back until later this week when the Wings host the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.
“The whole thing is to understand it’s not about Pavel one bit, it’s about the Red Wings and the guys that are playing and we just got to keep grinding,” Babcock said. “I don’t want to get caught up in that whatsoever, I want to have us keep on working.”
When asked to critique Datsyuk’s improvement, Babcock said, “I’m going to assess him in the game.”
It’s clear that Datsyuk’s skating has improved over the last week, but he’s not where he needs to be, making an exact timeframe difficult to establish. Still, his teammates are anxious to get him back soon.
Without Datsyuk and captain Henrik Zetterberg, the Red Wings have heavily relied on youngsters like Gustav Nyquist, who on Tuesday was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Month for March.
Detroit has got balanced scoring from rookies and veterans with exactly half of the goals since the Olympic break coming from youngsters who were on Grand Rapids’ Calder Cup championship team last spring.
“It’s great to see him out on the ice skating and being part of practices,” Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson said. “We feel that we’re playing pretty consistent hockey right now and getting a guy with his experience and his offensive abilities, among other things, will be a big boost for this team.”
Whether Datsyuk returns Wednesday or later in the week, the Red Wings are just excited to know he’s coming back sooner than later.
“It would be huge to have Pav back,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “He’s one of the best two-way players in the game. We could definitely use him.”
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