TAMPA, Fla. – After missing eight games with spasms in his lower back, Tomas Jurco is ready to return to the Red Wings lineup tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I was getting better every day and I think I’m ready tonight. I’m excited to get back,” Jurco said.
The rookie forward will skate on the right side of the Wings’ fourth line centered by Joakim Andersson with Drew Miller on the left wing.
“First couple of games I’m just going to try and get back into it. Play hard,” said Jurco, who has two goals and 12 points in 37 games this season. “I’m going to try and play physical. Just help out and put a little offense in.”
Tonight is a showdown of the top two teams in the Atlantic Division, with the Red Wings (28-11-9, 65 points) owning a one-point lead over the Lightning (30-15-4, 64 points).
Coach Mike Babcock said he expects the 22-year-old Jurco to get into the flow of the game at the drop of the puck.
“Just get going,” Babcock said. “He’s a big guy, can really skate. This game should be going 100 miles an hour. He’s a guy who has to become a heavy forechecking, puck-possession guy who plays great defensively but is one of the workers with top-six forwards if that makes sense. That’s what he’s got to become.”
Earlier this month, Jurco’s pain reached just an unbearable level during the Edmonton game that he did not return to the ice for the start of the third period. The Slovakian forward was prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and rehabilitation.
“I was kind of waiting to see how it reacted after skate,” Jurco said. “It’s good now so I can’t wait to play.”
Prior to his injury, Jurco was on a goal-scoring drought. His last goal came in a 5-2 win over Philadelphia Nov. 26.
“I always want to score. It just didn’t go in for me,” Jurco said. “It doesn’t mean I didn’t play good. It just didn’t go in. That’s what happened to me.”
Even if the puck isn’t going in, Jurco understands he still as other objectives to reach during the game.
“I think I was getting better at other things what Bab’s wants from me,” he said. “I was doing what he wanted from me. I’ve been focusing on that. Now I’ve got to do both of them, scoring and doing what he wants. It’s going to take me sometime, but hopefully after I come back it’s going to get better.
POINTS FROM THE POINT: A recent focus for the Red Wings have been getting the defensive corps more involved in the offense.
It’s certainly been working out as more shots from the points are getting through creating more scoring chances on the offensive zone.
“We’ve talked about it lately in all of the meetings,” Jonathan Ericsson said. “First of all, we have to try to use the top more in the offensive zone. A lot of teams are really compressed down low and making it really small, so it’s hard for the forwards to create offensive opportunities. But also for the D-men to make sure that the puck is going down somehow, that the puck is going to the net or it’s going down. We don’t need a lot of shots being blocked by the first guy because then the puck is probably going to go out. If it’s going to get blocked in front of the net it’s a different story because then we can get some second chances, but that’s been a key. We’ve generated more shots from the top lately but that’s why we (defensemen) have some more points.”
In the past five games, 13 Red Wings, including four defensemen, have produced three or more points. Nicklas Kronwall has four points, while Ericsson, Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser all have three each.
“The sooner we get the pass from below the goal line, the more time we’re going to have to get it through, too. If they kind of skate it up along the half wall, then pass it up, then of course their forwards are going to get closer to us and we won’t have enough time to maybe get a shot through.”