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Helm is in lineup tonight in Buffalo

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Tuesday will be four weeks since Darren Helm suffered an AC sprain at training camp in Traverse City, Mich.

Then, the original diagnoses called for 2-4 weeks of rest and treatment for the 22-year-old center, who had already nabbed a roster spot with the Red Wings.

Doctors were right on as Helm will make his 2009-10 debut with the Red Wings, who play the Sabres tonight at Buffalo's HSBC Arena.

“It was weird,” said Helm, of sitting out since Sept. 15. “It’s just a different feeling and there wasn’t a whole lot that I could do. I wasn’t feeling a part of the team. But the last week or so I’ve been around more and practiced with the team and the excitement level is getting back to where it was before I got hurt. Emotionally, it was a little bit depressing, but now I’m excited to get going again.”

While Helm indicted after Monday’s practice that he’s ready to return to game action, coach Mike Babcock wasn’t sure if Helm would be inserted into Tuesday’s lineup.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Babcock said. “I think he’s ready to go and we’re going to have to decide. If Grand Rapids was playing today he would be playing in Grand Rapids today. But because they don’t play until the weekend – it’s always nice to get a few games under your belt – but we would like to get him in, so I’ll think about it and let you guys know at the (morning) skate tomorrow.”

With the loss of four forwards from last season’s squad – and now the injury to Johan Franzen (knee) that will sideline him until at least February – the speedy Helm is one of the guys that the Red Wings hope will pick up the offensive slack.

“I think I can play; I’m ready,” Helm said. “We did some battle drills today and it’s all good. No pain. … It feels pretty good and hopefully they’ll say ‘OK’.”

COMFORTS OF HOME: Since returning from Sweden, Babcock has been pleased with how well his team has responded over the last two games – both 3-2 wins over Chicago and Washington.

“The last game was our best game,” said Babcock, referring to Saturday’s victory over the Capitals. “It was the first time that we skated like an NHL team since we’ve been back. We gave up an early goal, yet I didn’t think it affected us very much. We just kept playing, which is important.”

After giving up nine goals in two losses to St. Louis in Stockholm, the Wings (2-2-0) limited the high-octane Caps and their two-time defending Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin to two goals. The Capitals had gone 11 straight regular-season games with three-or-more goals, dating back to a 3-2 loss to Toronto last March 24.

Babcock credits goalie Chris Osgood for part of the Wings’ turnaround since the team’s return to North America. The Wings’ coach has also taken notice of Osgood’s improvement from this time last season.

“It’s night and day,” Babcock said. “He didn’t play as good as he played the other night one time in the first half last year. Good for him and good for us. We’re going to have to play real well without the puck to have success this year, and a big part of that is goaltending.

“We’ve played well the last couple of games. We didn’t give up that much and I felt that Ozzie bailed us out the game before.”

The Wings begin a stretch of three games in five days with a road tilt in Buffalo (Tuesday), followed by a pair of home dates with Los Angeles (Thursday) and Colorado (Saturday).

Osgood will get the start against the Sabres at HSBC Arena where he has a 4-1-2 career record and 1.75 goals-against average.

“You ride him when he’s going real good,” Babcock said. “So in saying all of that, there are 82 games on the schedule and Ozzie’s going to play about 50 of them and (Jimmy Howard) will play about 32 of them.”

The Sabres (2-0-1) will be a challenge. They lead the league in shots on goal per game (38.7); fewest shots allowed (66); and fewest goals-against (three).

“Tomorrow, we’ll be tested. Buffalo’s playing well,” Babcock said. “They’ve given up two goals in regulation, so they’re going to be a problem for us and we have to be ready.”

NEW COMBINATION: On Saturday, Babcock put together a line of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi. It worked perfectly against the Caps top offensive line of Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin.

Bertuzzi adds some obvious size to the line, but it may be too early to see how well this new combo will work as the Wings try to find an offensive solution for Franzen’s absence.

“He’s a big guy who can really hold onto the puck,” said Zetterberg, referring to Bertuzzi. “He’s really good in tight areas and when he gets a chance he’ll put them away. By holding onto the puck more, it creates some room for us, so I don’t know if it’s because of is size, but I think it’s more about his skill level.

“It will take some time before I get a feel for it. It all depends on how it goes in the games. From one game to a week, it’s tough to say, but we’ll have to wait to see how it goes in the games.”

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