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Filppula plays through the pain

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Valtteri Filppula has three assists on just nine shots in the Red Wings' first five games this season. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT Valtteri Filppula had hoped to duplicate his outstanding start to the 2011-12 season, but a bothersome knee continues to limit his effectiveness in the opening weeks of this lockout-shortened season.

Last season, the Finnish forward produced two goals and five assists through the first five games in his new role as a center on the Red Wings’ top scoring line with Henrik Zetterberg. It was a career year for Filppula, who finished with 23 goals, 43 assists, 66 points and a plus-18 rating – all single-season bests for the 28-year-old.

But this season – with the exception of a three-assist game in last Friday’s 5-3 win over Minnesota – Filppula has struggled with a sore knee.

“Obviously it bothers me a little bit, but I don’t think about it too much during the games,” said Filppula, who sprained a MCL in November while playing in Finland during the NHL lockout. “I feel that I can play well without thinking about it. Hopefully, I can start practicing too and get rid of (the pain) altogether.”

With the addition of Swiss star Damien Brunner, the coaches decided to move Filppula back to a wing and onto the second line where he’s opposite Todd Bertuzzi with Pavel Datsyuk centering the trio. Through five games though, Filppula has been held to three assists on nine shots.

“I think I can play better and hopefully I can start playing better as the games go on,” Filppula said. “I think that’s always the goal and hopefully get a goal in one of these days.”

Coach Mike Babcock has given Filppula time off from practice lately, hoping that the added rest will be a benefit. But Babcock would really like to see Filppula get his game back to the levels that he had last year.

“Playing with Pav is a pretty good deal,” Babcock said. “We were counting on him being a top-four forward for us last year and he got 60-plus points. We need the same.”

An area that can help Filppula’s offensive production could come from the second power-play unit, which has also struggled to find a cohesive rhythm.

Babcock is confident that the second unit, under Bertuzzi’s leadership, along with net-front man Daniel Clearly and Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl on the point, will begin to come together sooner than later.

“Bert’s a good teammate. He’s been around the game a long time and understands what it takes,” Babcock said. “I guarantee you he’ll take the second power-play unit personally and get that going. He’s a guy who’s a valuable teammate.”

Asked if he’s worried that the compressed season isn’t conducive for resting an injury, Filppula said, “I’m not too worried. It’s been healing pretty well. It’s just the matter that the load is so tough right now with so many games. It has no time to recover. But I’m feeling pretty good and I’m able to play, so that’s the main thing.”

COLO UPDATE: Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo was back on the ice for the first time in eight days since suffering a sprained acromioclavicular joint (AC joint) in his left shoulder at Columbus on Jan. 21.

While it was good that surgery isn’t needed, Colaiacovo isn’t sure when he’ll be cleared to return to practice.

“Don't really know right now,” he said. “I'm trying to get better every day. It's been a tough first week, tough first couple of days, even just trying to sleep.”

Colaiacovo was injured during the third period of the Wings’ 4-3 shootout win over the Blue Jackets. He was checked along the boards by Jackets forward Cam Atkinson. It was the same shoulder that Colaiacovo sprained while playing for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup last month.

“I just got hit, from the impact from the hit, I couldn't move it,” Colaiacovo said. “I knew right away that it was the same shoulder. … Very frustrating at the time, still is. But just got to come to the rink, put a smile on my face every day, work my rear off to get back in the lineup as soon as I can.”

OUT AGAIN: After injecting much-needed energy to the bottom-six forwards last week, center Darren Helm will miss his second straight game since he’s had back pain flare-up again.

Helm made his season debut in the Wings’ 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild last Friday. He registered a game-high four hits in more than 12-minutes of ice-time, but Helm’s night didn’t end pain-free, and after Saturday’s practice he felt worse.

“The game felt fine,” he said. “It felt a little stiff near the end just sitting around. The next morning I woke up, it was fine. Just the skate – when I starting getting out there, halfway through – the time where I got off it started hurting. I did a little stretch and it kind of kept flaring up.”

Helm visited an orthopedics spine specialist on Monday, and had a MRI, which showed no signs of structural or disc damage.

“It wasn’t a disc. It wasn’t a worst-case scenario, so you have to take one positive out of that,” Helm said. “It’ pretty much right in the back, which is a good thing. It’s not a bulging disc or anything, which would be a worst-case scenario. It didn’t hurt before when I was skating. Then it started to hurt, so it’s a little different than before. I have to be able to skate or I’m not very affective.”

Helm said that he’s likely out through the weekend and could be ready as soon as next Tuesday when the Wings host the Calgary Flames.

SEEING STARS: A quirky 48-game NHL schedule has given the Red Wings and Stars a good look at each another early on this season. Tonight, the Wings will host the Pacific Division club for the second straight Tuesday night.

Forward Michael Ryder scored twice in leading the Stars to a 2-1 victory last week at Joe Louis Arena.

But Babcock likes it because his club catches Dallas on the back-end of back-to-back games. The Stars dropped a 2-1 decision at Columbus on Monday.

“It was nice that they played last night,” Babcock said. “Last time, we played the night before and they waited for us. This time, they played and we waited for them.

“Obviously, watching it, breaking it down after playing them, it gives you a pretty good feel and a handle on what they’re doing and what they’re trying to do. It’s going to be a hard game, just like every game. Every game in the league is tough.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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