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Home hiatus ends as Wings return to JLA

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Tatar will be back in the Red Wings' lineup after returning from Europe where he attended his father's funeral this week. Tatar has four points in his last four games. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – It feels good to be home for everyone in Detroit’s locker room.

The Red Wings haven’t played at Joe Louis Arena since a 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders before the Christmas break, and are looking forward to returning to their home rink after the 26-day hiatus.

“It’s really nice,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “I think it’s going to be tough for some of the guys to get tickets if they need them because a lot of family and stuff are coming after having not seen us in a while so it’s exciting to be back home and be able to sleep in our own beds and stuff like that, and be able to be back in a kind of relaxed home stay so I’m definitely excited.”

Although they’ve been home for a few days , the Red Wings were unable to host practice at The Joe due to the Ford Motor Company’s press preview during this month’s North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit. The team held practice at a local indoor rink three miles east of downtown, but can’t be compared to skating on home ice.

“We don’t do it often, and to have to do it two days in a row was a little bit different,” forward Drew Miller said of practicing at City Sports Center. “Luckily it’s not too far away but it’s not like being back in your home rink. Like practicing today, it was nice to get back out there on The Joe and get back at home here for a little while.”

In what players commonly refer to as ‘dress and drive’ practices also caused some curious and confused stares to venture Miller’s way.

“To dress here (and) walk onto the ice, instead of walk to your car and drive over and have people staring at you with your helmet on and your equipment on,” he said.

Smith is welcoming the return to The Joe because it also means the odor of his hockey equipment will no longer linger inside his vehicle.

“Exactly, so you’re not stinking up your car and everything,” Smith said.

The Red Wings won’t have to worry about leaving The Joe again anytime soon, as they will play their next five games at home after completing a five-game road trip in New York Thursday night. The team hopes its recent break from the JLA will help it improve on its 6-10-7 home record.

“I think that can help,” defenseman Danny DeKeyser said. “Anytime you can, you’re struggling somewhere and you get away for a while and then you come back it kind of refreshes you a little bit and clears things up so hopefully that’s the case and we need to come out here and play hard and just get wins and get points.”

Currently sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference behind 50 points and a 20-17-10 record, the cross-conference game against Los Angeles Saturday is an important game to kick off a pivotal home stand.

“Well the game against LA is huge,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We don’t win enough so I thought our team played hard the last couple games but we didn’t win. We gotta find a way to get some points. As you can see in the standings we’re not in a good situation. We gotta get some traction and get going. We had a lot of kids play real well last game and in the end we still found a way not to win so we gotta find a way to win.”

Goals have been difficult to come by lately due to a host of injuries plaguing the Red Wings, but Jimmy Howard has single-handedly given his team a chance to win in recent games with his superb goaltending.

“Obviously our home record hasn’t been as good but Howie wasn’t dialed in like he is right now so that’s a huge part of having success,” Babcock said. “Obviously with a group like we have right now, we don’t score great we need awesome goaltending and we’ve been getting it.”

And there’s no better time to get back on track than a new year and new ice as the Red Wings prepare to play their first game at The Joe of 2014.

“I think we gotta start working our way back in and we gotta to find a way to be better back home,” Miller said. “A perfect time right now to take care of both of those things and get back on a roll.”

TATAR RETURNS: Forward Tomas Tatar is back in Detroit after attending his father’s funeral in Eastern Europe. He’ll return to Detroit’s lineup Saturday when the Red Wings host the Kings. Tatar’s father passed away last week due to an illness, and the forward traveled to Slovakia to attend the funeral. After missing Thursday’s game in New York, Tatar is looking forward to returning and getting over the jetlag.

“I’m really happy to be back,” he said. “Hockey makes me think of something else other than my dad. The guys have been really helpful, coach has been great, management was really good. I’m happy to be back and go back to playing.”

INJURY UPDATE: Daniel Cleary, Jimmy Howard, Todd Bertuzzi, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Patrick Eaves, Joakim Andersson and Daniel Alfredsson took maintenance days Friday and didn’t practice with the team.

Johan Franzen (concussion), Jonathan Ericsson (fractured ribs), Darren Helm (groin) and Pavel Datsyuk (lower-body injury) skated in practice Friday but are not expected to return Saturday against the Kings.

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