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Maltby off to a quick start offensively

by Christy Hammond / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Kirk Maltby’s goal Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings marked his second of the season, making it the fastest that he’s reached that total to start a year since 2002-03 when he scored two goals along with an assist in a 6-3 season-opening win at San Jose.

In addition to his two tallies, Maltby has also recorded a pair of assists in his first four games this season. His four points best the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Nicklas Lidstrom. This offensive surge becomes even more surprising when you consider that he has played two fewer games than his teammates due to being a healthy scratch.

“It feels very rewarding and you feel very happy when you are able to contribute on the score sheet and help the team win games,” Maltby said. “When you do that, it just takes a lot of pressure off of all the other guys and allows them to just go play.”

The veteran forward has been taking a lot of heat of late due to his hot hands with teammate Kris Draper leading the way.

“We saw the (replay) video and that was kind of the freeze frame of his celebration and us going out on the ice,” Draper said, “so he’s taking it all in stride, absolutely, but anytime you get a chance to rip Malts, you do it.”

Coach Mike Babcock placed Maltby on the third line with Draper and Tomas Holmstrom in Thursday’s game – a 5-2 win over the Kings. The line brought some stability on the penalty kill and the forecheck. By the end of the night, the trio finished with a combined plus-one rating and recorded two goals. Babcock intends to have the same line play against Colorado on Saturday because of their chemistry against LA.

“It’s always nice being able to play with a guy like Homer because he goes and gets those pucks and goes into the hard areas,” Maltby said. “So when you have a guy like that and Drapes with his speed, it makes a lot of things a lot easier.”

With the loss of four forwards to free agency over the summer and Johan Franzen’s serious knee injury last week, the third and fourth lines are expected to contribute more offensively than in previous seasons. Maltby doesn’t view this responsibility as added pressure, rather an opportunity.

“I don’t expect to go out there and score every night and I know I’m not expected to,” Maltby said, “but to be able to chip in here and there is going to help the big guys and just allow them to go out and play with confidence.”

DATSYUK OUT SATURDAY: Despite skating and shooting on Friday, forward Pavel Datsyuk remains out with an upper body injury and will not play in Saturday’s contest against Colorado.

In other roster news, Chris Osgood will get the start in net and forward Brad May will re-enter the lineup. Babcock is unsure as to which player he will replace on the fourth line.

“I had four guys on that line today,” Babcock said. “I worked that out and I’ll sleep on it one more time.”

PLAYING COLORADO: The Wings will host the Avalanche Saturday, but it’ll be a different team than what Detroit is used to seeing. For one, Joe Sakic is no longer captain of the team after retiring in July. In addition, the Avs currently sit atop the Western Conference standings thanks to a hot 5-1-1 start.

“They’re in first place overall and obviously doing a good job,” Babcock said. “They’ve put kids in their lineup. The (Matt) Duchene kid, in my understanding, is a fantastic player. (Ryan) O’Reilly looks like he’s contributing for them. I don’t know these guys at all. We’re just breaking down their two games right now so I’ll have a better handle on it by tomorrow.”

HOMER REBOUNDS: Holmstrom wasn’t a picture of perfect health last season, particularly in the playoffs, and didn’t play the way he wanted to as a result. In his first six games this season the now-healthy Swede has turned it around, leading the team with four goals.

“I thought he was good last night,” Babcock noted. “We need him to make good decisions so his line can get through the neutral zone and then he’s got to get to the net and be physical in puck retrievals. He’s been doing that.”

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