DETROIT – Mike Babcock was asked Friday morning about the reasonable expectations he has for Pavel Datsyuk’s return to the lineup tonight when the Red Wings host the Chicago Blackhawks at Joe Louis Arena.
“I don’t know,” the Wings’ coach said. “He was playing great when he left and anytime you get leg injuries or groin injuries, to me, it’s not like a shoulder if your legs are going and you come back. So we’ll see what happens here tonight.”
A sore groin forced Datsyuk to miss the past two games. He also missed the first five games of the season with a separated right shoulder, however, when he returned Datsyuk went on a six-game point streak, producing five goals and 10 points.
Furthermore, Datsyuk’s return gives the Red Wings depth up the middle with Henrik Zetterberg centering the second line, and none of that is lost on the Blackhawks.
“It goes without saying how much depth those two add at center when they play on different lines,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. “Whoever’s out there against Datsyuk’s or Zetterberg’s line has to be ready at the faceoff, you’re not going to get any easy plays you’re going to have to work for everything.”
Datsyuk will center the Wings’ top line flanked by forwards Justin Abdelkader and Tomas Jurco. Zetterberg will skate with Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist.
Asked what went into his decision to put Jurco – a healthy scratch the past three games – on Datsyuk’s line, Babcock said, “I don’t know. Pav wasn’t playing. I like my other lines. Put Pav in, didn’t want to screw up my other lines, so I’m going that way.”
The 21-year-old Jurco had been a fixture on Riley Sheahan’s line with Tomas Tatar. But that line struggled in the last month, so looking for ways to shake things up to promote more scoring, Babcock decided to switch the lines.
“He’s had three games to sit around and watch and decide how bad he wants to play and understand that it’s not a given,” Babcock said. “You have to earn the right to play. He’s getting an opportunity to play with Abby and Pav that are real good players and we need him to be good.”
A fast start against the Blackhawks would also be welcomed by the Wings. Though they hold an 11-7 edge in first-period scoring against their opponents this season, recent slow starts are worrisome. So, the four days off – the Wings last played Sunday – could be a blessing.
“Any time you have four days off it’s a good thing,” Abdelkader said. “We’re not complaining about it but at the same time you got to make sure you get off to a good start, make sure you get your legs under you right away. As time goes here it’s going to prove to be a great break and beneficial to us. (Chicago’s) a fast-starting team. We got to make sure we match that and come out skating right away.”
The Wings have been outscored just three times in first periods this season, and have a 2-0-1 record in those games with wins over Boston (Oct. 9) and Pittsburgh (Oct. 23). They'd rather have a start like this did against Los Angeles than they did in Buffalo and Ottawa earlier this month.
“We want to have a good start and establish our game right away,” forward Drew Miller said. “We know they like to play with speed and we got to cut their big guys off and limit that.”