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Notebook: Stuart's ready to return

by Dave Burke / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – The Red Wings will get a welcomed addition in Florida later this week.

Defenseman Brad Stuart will play in his first game since he suffered a fractured jaw last month in Calgary. He is expected to be in the Wings’ line-up Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“Obviously when we get these key players back we’ll spend more time in the offensive zone and less time in the defensive zone,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That makes you automatically better defensively which is important.”

Stuart’s return means that veterans like Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski won’t have to log nearly as much ice time, particularly on special teams.

“He’ll help our penalty kill, but I also think he’s a real good example to our guys of how to compete on a nightly basis,” said Babcock, referring to Stuart. “He’s a good pro and a great teammate.”

At the time of the injury, Stuart ranked third on the team by averaging 20:57 of ice-time, and led the squad with 80 blocked shots. He is one of the bigger and more physically imposing players on the roster. 

His return to game action will be a relief, Stuart said, and he knows that it will take a little bit of time before he feels completely comfortable and up to speed. 

“Just keep it simple, make the easy play,” he said. “Start slow and build it up.”

Stuart said that he’ll continue to wear a protective face-mask that he’s been wearing in practices, but that the plastic shield shouldn’t prohibit him in any way.

“I shouldn’t be too worried about it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s tough not to think about it.”

Stuart has missed 15 games after he had his jaw broken by a blindside hit from Flames forward Tom Kostopolous, who was accessed a six-game suspension from the league. Surgery was required to fix the fractured jaw, and it’s only now that Stuart can begin eating some solid foods.

“No steak just yet, but chicken if you cut it up real small,” he said. “We’re getting back to normal, though.”

BERT NEARS MILESTONE: This Sunday, Todd Bertuzzi will play in his 1,000th career NHL game when the Red Wings visit the Minnesota Wild. He has four goals, two each in his last two games, and is warming up just in time for the big milestone.

Bertuzzi’s not the only Wings’ player heating up, either. His linemates Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen have been dominant and have combined for 11 points in the last three games.

Bertuzzi joins Kirk Maltby, Dallas Drake, and Kris Draper as Wings who have reached the 1,000-game plateau over the last three seasons.

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