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Ericsson returns to Wings' lineup

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT – Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson will return to the line-up for Thursday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, and coach Mike Babcock is expecting him to contribute immediately.

When asked if it would take time for the young defenseman to return to NHL condition, Babcock said that better not be an issue.

“He better have lots, or else he shouldn’t be going in and we shouldn’t have done this,” Babcock said. “We asked him to make that very clear. He’s been practicing for a while, and if he’s not ready to help the team, he wouldn’t be playing.

“We think he’s ready to go.”

Ericsson said that he has been skating hard the last few weeks to get prepared for his return, but he isn’t sure what to expect against the Hurricanes.

“Well I feel pretty good right now,” he said. “It’s hard to say when you’re not playing in a game. I’ve been skating a lot lately, but it’s hard to say before a game.”

Ericsson has 10 points in 31 games this season before sustaining a knee injury against Phoenix on Dec. 14.  Whether or not he manages to log 20-minutes against Carolina, which is the amount of ice-time he’s averaging this season,  is unknown.

Meanwhile, to make room for Ericsson’s return to the lineup, veteran Doug Janik was sent back to the Wings’ AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. Babcock praised Janik’s effort, yet he is excited to get Ericsson’s 6-foot-4 frame back in the lineup.

“Janik was up on emergency recall, and he’s being sent back to the minors,” Babcock said. “He was fantastic, he did everything he could, and we appreciate it. And now it will be good to have the Big E back. Ideally he can get playing and moving the puck and killing penalties and doing what he does.”

Rookie goalie Jimmy Howard said that while shorter defensemen like Brian Rafalski and Derek Meech do good jobs of playing the body, he’s looking forward to having a physical presence like Ericsson helping him out.

“The bigger the better in the back end,” Howard said. “It’s nice when you get the big guys back there and they’re pushing guys around. But that’s not knocking guys like Rafi and Derek, because they’re pretty strong in their own right, and they’re not afraid to get in there and muck it up.”

However, Ericsson said that the physical play he adds to the Wings’ lineup is one area he is unsure of heading into Thursday’s game.

“When you’re practicing out there, there’s not much game-like situations … like battling and going out hard and things like that,” Ericsson said. “That’s been the problem since I got out there, quick movements, so my real test will be my first game.”

MAY IN, LEINO OUT: Babcock will add some toughness to Thursday’s lineup. Following Thursday’s morning skate, he said that forward Brad May will take the place of Ville Leino.

In the Wings’ last game – a 6-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday – Leino skated more than 11-minutes, and finished with a -1 rating. This season, Leino has skated in 39 games, recording four goals and three assists.

May has appeared in 31 games. He has one assist, along with leading the Red Wings with 59 penalty minutes.

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