DETROIT – Finally, it appears that Pavel Datsyuk will be back in the lineup when the Red Wings host the Buffalo Sabres Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Datsyuk, who has missed nearly half the regular season, including the past 16 games with a left knee injury, confirmed Thursday that he will play for the first time since Feb. 27.
“It’s been long time no play. I forget I’m hockey player,” Datsyuk joked. “Exciting to come back.”
The Red Wings are on the verge of making it to the Stanley Cup playoffs for a 23rd consecutive time. They currently hold the first wild-card in the Eastern Conference with Columbus and Toronto on their heels. But getting one of their offensive stalwarts back is a huge lift for the team as it heads toward the final six games that are tightly woven into the next 10 days.
Last week, Datsyuk predicted that he won’t be 100 percent when he returns from the injury, which goes back to early January. He wouldn’t rule out off-season surgery to correct the problem either.
But the Red Wings know that Datsyuk at 80 percent is better than no Datsyuk at all.
“I expect him to be one of the best players in the world. He'll be fine,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said Thursday. “He knows how to play, so he knows how to play with and without the puck. When he gets his hands on it, he's gonna be good with it. Without it, he knows how to play. I'm not sure how much pace he'll have, I don't know that for sure. We didn't do a lot of pace stuff today, just because the other guys, just the amount of games we're playing. I saw him out there battling after practice. If it appears he's ready and feels confident, then I'm sure he is.”
According to Babcock, Datsyuk will likely begin the game playing on the wing, opposite of Justin Abdelkader on a line centered by Darren Helm.
“I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about the lines in practice today,” Babcock said. “I still got 24 hours to decide what I'm doing. I think Pav will probably start on the wing, to be honest with you, because that's what he normally likes to do when he comes back. I'll talk to him tomorrow morning and kind of get a read on where we're at.”
The trio looked good as they went through line drills with Datsyuk in the middle hole on the second line at Thursday’s practice. David Legwand returned to the top line with Gustav Nyquist and Johan Franzen.
Datsyuk and Abdelkader are accustom to playing side by side as they helped make up the top line last season when Datsyuk memorably said that he plays the piano while Abby pulls it.
As Datsyuk tried to return early from the knee injury last month, he played wing on Helm’s third line with Daniel Alfredsson for two games prior to the Sochi Olympics.
“We’ve both been out so much. We haven’t had any long lasting grinding time together,” Helm said. “It’s going to be kind of a fresh start. I’m kind of fresh, he’s kind of fresh and Abby is kind of fresh so it’ll be a pretty interesting line out there.”
Right Wing - DET
Goals: 17 | Assists: 28 | Pts: 45
Shots: 142 | +/-: E
According to Babcock, Alfredsson, who stayed off the ice for a fourth consecutive day Thursday, is dealing with the same lower back soreness that held him out of seven games in late December and January.
“He's had the same thing, the back stuff, so he's getting it worked out,” Babcock said. “He could be a go tomorrow though.”
Alfredsson had played in 25 straight games before sitting out Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Boston. He is third on the team in goals (17), assists (28) and shots on goal (142), and fourth in points (45) in 63 games.
LEADER OF THE PACK: With 28 goals, Gustav Nyquist will likely join some of the youngest players in franchise history to lead the Red Wings in single-season scoring with 25 or more goals.
He will become the 13th player at the age of 24 or younger to lead Detroit in goals, and the first to do so since a 24-year-old Sergei Fedorov scored a career-best 56 goals during in 1993-94.
Both Gordie Howe and John Ogrodnick led the Red Wings in scoring four times before they celebrated their 25th birthdays, and Steve Yzerman did it three times.
Others to do it were Mike Foligno (21 years old) in 1979-80; Dale McCourt (21) in 1977-78; Michel Bergeron (21) in 1975-76; Mickey Redmond (24) in 1971-72; Tom Webster (22) in 1970-71; Garry Unger (22) in 1969-70; Ted Lindsay (22) in 1947-48; and Ebbie Goodfellow (23) in 1930-31.
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