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Notebook: Home is where the road is

by Dave Burke / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT -- Playing at home is an undeniable advantage for a hockey team. The crowd can be the X-factor that is needed for victory and is even called the 12th man in football.

For the Red Wings this season, home cooking has been a mixed bag. They are 17-10-4 at Joe Louis Arena, compared to 20-8-2 on the road. They still have a winning record at home, but have struggled mightily with slow starts going 8-9-2 recently, and as coach Mike Babcock likes to preach, when you’re playing catch-up hockey it’s tough to win.

“Thank God were going on the road and don’t have to come back to the Joe. So maybe we can help ourselves out and get it going,” Babcock said.

The players agree.

“I think the big difference is we keep the game pretty simple. It’s not pretty, but we give ourselves the best chance to win,” defenseman Brad Stuart said. “For whatever reason we don’t seem to want to do that as home as much, we get on the road and we keep it simple.”

Maybe a five game road trip, which the Wings begin in Buffalo on Saturday, is what they need?

“Yeah maybe, we’ve definitely been better on the road," Stuart said. "We can’t assume that it’s going to come easy for us, we just have to continue to keep the game simple.”

Fair or not, the boo-birds have been out recently at JLA, and Stuart understands there impatience.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, we expect the best of ourselves," he said. "The fans are the same, when we come out with sub-par efforts at home you know, what do you expect? They have a right to be a little bit upset with us. It’s to be expected, we should be better and we know we have to be better. I’m sure we will be when we get back from this road trip.”

Since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in 2008, Stuart’s family has stayed in California, so the road trip is a nice chance to see them.

“My wife and kids are going to fly out to L.A. next week when we get there and then I’m going to spend the day in San Jose with them, nothing too special, just nice to see them,” he said.

BACK IN ACTION:  Center Mike Modanos tenure in Detroit certainly hasn’t gone as planned since suffering a lacerated wrist Nov. 26 at Columbus. Finally, the wait is over and Modano will be in the line-up Saturday against the Sabres on a line with Tomas Holmstrom, and Valtteri Filppula, if he is ready to come back from his sprained knee.

“Yeah I’m excited, basically I’ve had two summer breaks in one year so it’s a long time coming, but I’m excited to get started and get the first couple of weeks out of the way and get back up to speed,” Modano said. “Game speed and conditioning and tempo will be the biggest thing to get used to.

"Coming in at the tail-end when everybody is fighting for playoff spots is pretty intense. I’ll just have to get my thoughts and speed and legs up to speed with these guys, play the game and try not to do too much, just keep it simple.”

On playing with Filppula and Holmstrom, Modano thinks the line could be a good combination.

“I think we could bring a little bit of everything," he said. "Fil and I are both interchangeable as centers and taking face-offs and playing down low, sometimes that wears a guy down so if we could trade off on those responsibilities. With Homer, what you see is what you get from him. It’s pretty intense hardworking and if we can get the puck to the net something good could happen.”

Back spasms will force defenseman Brian Rafalski to miss the game in Buffalo. He is day-to-day.

“I’m not going to Buffalo,” Rafalski said. “It’s just day-to-day and it’s just something that you don’t want to make any worse.”

While Rafalski won’t make the trip to Buffalo he will make the trip out west.

Johan Franzen will play in Buffalo, but the power forward will miss the remaining four games of the trip to be with his wife who is expecting the birth of their first child.

“Well I’ve got a pretty good handle on it,” Babcock said with a smirk when talking about the absence of players waiting on babies to be born. “Mule's coming with us and then we’ll drop him off and then were going to leave him behind. I made a mistake on Rusty (Ruslan Salei), I thought he told me he was going to have a baby, but that’s coming later so he got some time off. For a guy like Mule, he’s having his first one and that’s as special as it comes.”

Who knew that family planning would be part of a coach's job description?

“Well the NHL has changed a little bit,” Babcock said. “I think it’s real important. I know I didn’t miss the birth of any of my kids and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have been there and it’s one of the most special things that’s ever going to happen to you and is much more important than hockey.”

Right wing Jan Mursak was sent back to the Grand Rapids Griffins to make room for the forwards coming back from injury.

Mursak has played in 18 games for the Red Wings this season scoring one goal and averaging 8:13 of ice time.

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