DETROIT – The cavalry is mending and on its way back to the Red Wings’ lineup this week.
The Red Wings have had as many as eight players on injured reserve at one time this month. That number dropped to seven when defenseman Danny DeKeyser returned Saturday and logged more than 17-minutes of ice time in a 5-4 shootout win over the Maple Leafs at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
It’s expected that forward Justin Abdelkader (concussion) is well enough to play against the New York Islanders in Monday’s final game before the league’s three-day Christmas break. It’s also possible that center Darren Helm (shoulder) and forward Gustav Nyquist (groin) could play Monday, but if they don’t they definitely should be set for the Wings’ two-game road trip following the break, beginning Saturday at Florida
Detroit general manager Ken Holland believes captain Henrik Zetterberg (lower back), forward Johan Franzen (concussion) and goalie Jimmy Howard (MCL) will be back as soon as Saturday.
“Even if Howie is ready to go he’s not playing the 28th,” Holland said. “The question is, is he well enough to be a backup on the 28th? If he’s ready to back up then we start thinking about putting him in the net on the 30th or the 1st.”
The Wings learned Saturday that center Stephen Weiss decided to have surgery to fix a sports hernia that will keep him out until after the Winter Olympic break. Weiss received a second opinion from Philadelphia physician, Dr. William C. Meyers, who recommended surgery.
“If he has surgery now, the good news is there’s a 2 ½ week Olympic break and he probably would be ready to go after the Olympic break,” Holland said. “But doctors also said we can go conservative, wait 2-3 weeks and then he can skate and we’ll try to get him through. … Ultimately the final decision has to come down to Stephen because he knows how he feels.”
Fortunately for the Wings, the cavalry has good depth in Grand Rapids. In the last month, the Griffins have sent a steady flow of young reserves – like forward Tomas Jurco and centers Luke Glendening and Riley Sheahan – to Detroit.
The trio really showed off their offensive potential in Saturday’s win at Toronto, as Jurco (goal, assist) and Sheahan (two assists) each had two-point performances.
“They playing really good game right now. They’re feeling really good about themselves,” Wings forward Tomas Tatar said. “They have lots of confidence. You can really see it on their sticks. I think everybody from Grand Rapids really playing well. We were struggling before so this is really helpful. We’re battling lots of injuries; those guys have lots of energy, they’re just flying out there.
“I feel like they came really confident. Coach (Jeff) Blashill did a really good job with those guys. They play same system what we have here. They come up here ready to play. They’re in good spots, they’re playing well, they’re playing simple hockey, they’re real heavy on the puck. It’s good stuff.”
The Red Wings (17-12-9) begin this week in fourth place of the Atlantic Division, which is good enough for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference standings.
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
MONDAY – vs. NEW YORK ISLANDERS (10-20-7):
Left Wing - NYI
Goals: 13 | Assists: 12 | Pts: 25
Shots: 106 | +/-: -2
On the last regular-season night before the league shuts down for the three-day Christmas break, the Red Wings and Islanders will complete their three-game season series at Joe Louis Arena, where Detroit owns a 26-19-2-1 all-time record against the Islanders. … Last Friday, the Islanders scored three unanswered goals to defeat the New York Rangers in a preview of the 2014 NHL Stadium Series. Michael Grabner scored twice and the Islanders scored goals five different ways: on a penalty shot, shorthanded, at even strength, on the power play and into an empty net. But on the next night, the Isles blew a 3-1 lead in the third period as Anaheim scored three times to defeat New York 5-3 at Nassau Coliseum. … The Isles are 10-4-2 when they score at least three goals and are 0-16-5 when they do not. … Defenseman Brian Strait also scored his first career regular-season goal on Friday, while rookie center Ryan Strome collected an assist on the play – tying the score, 3-3, at 11:26 of the second period – for his first NHL point. Strome made his NHL debut earlier this month and was the leading AHL scorer with 33 points in 23 games at the time of his call up. The 20-year-old was named the AHL rookie of the month for November and was also named player of the week in consecutive weeks, becoming the third AHL player in the last 20 years to earn the honor consecutively.
PLAYER TO WATCH: In 21 games since the trade that sent him from Buffalo to the Isles, Tomas Vanek has produced nine goals and 16 points, including seven points in his last seven games. The former first-round draft pick has three goals and four points in 11 career games against the Red Wings. Last Friday, he recorded the decisive goal – his first game-winner since his trade from Buffalo on Oct. 27 – at 1:18 into the third period to lead the Isles over the Rangers, 5-3, at Madison Square Garden. His two goals gave the Isles a 3-1 lead, which the Ducks overcame last Saturday.
SATURDAY – at FLORIDA (14-18-5):
Left Wing - FLA
Goals: 5 | Assists: 14 | Pts: 19
Shots: 93 | +/-: -1
The Panthers have improved to 11-9-1 under new coach Peter Horachek after compiling a 3-9-4 record before his hiring. … Goalie Scott Clemmensen has won four consecutive starts, his longest stretch since posting seven straight victories for the New Jersey Devils during the 2008-09 campaign. He has allowed two goals or fewer in each of his last four games. … The Panthers are in a stretch of seven out of nine games against Atlantic Division opponents, beginning back on Dec. 10 when they earned a 3-2 shootout win over Detroit. The Panthers then collected consecutive wins over Montreal (Dec. 15), Toronto (Dec 17) and Ottawa (Dec. 19). Florida will host Tampa Bay (Dec. 23), Detroit (Dec. 28) and Montreal (Dec. 29). … Florida has played in 18 one-goal games this season and has come from behind in 11 of their last 28 games to tie or win the game in the third period, including twice against the Red Wings on Dec. 7 and Dec. 10.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Forward Tomas Fleischmann, who has led the Panthers in points in his first two seasons with the organization, has picked up the offense of late, registering points in three of the last four games and now leads the team with 19 points. A second-round pick of the Red Wings in the 2002 NHL draft, Fleischmann has played in eight career games against his former team, recording four points, including his lone goal in a 2-1 overtime loss at Detroit on April 1, 2012.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, HOCKEYTOWN!
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose