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Notes: Abdelkader working way through challenging season

Larkin practices with team; Bertuzzi still not ready to do so

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- It has been a bit of a strange season for Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader has gone from the top line to the fourth line and back, has been on and off the power play and has killed penalties all the while.

Yet Abdelkader is not producing points the way he has in the past.

In 53 games this season, he has five goals and eight assists. He has not recorded a point in his last 12 games.

"Just playing different roles," Abdelkader said after Tuesday's practice at Belfor Training Center. "In years past, I've maybe had five or six goals a year, or I've scored on the power play. When those opportunities aren't there, when you're not getting those goals, you've got to find other ways to score. When I've had chances, unfortunately they haven't gone in. I've had some breakaways and things that way where in years past I've scored on those. It's just continuing to stay with it.

"I feel really good on the ice, as good as I've felt in the last several years. I think between my training and my eating, the way I prepare, it's as good as it's been. I've just got to stick with it. Points are a funny thing. When you start getting them, or scoring, it can start rolling over and use that confidence for the next game. You just got to continue to get around that net. That's when I'm at my best, whether I'm playing up with Larks (Dylan Larkin) or playing with Rosie (Jacob de la Rose). Just continue to do the right things. Points are points but at the end of the day I'm not always going to hang my hat on that, because I know I can bring a lot more to the table."

Because of his different roles, Abdelkader's ice time had fluctuated from as little as 10:31 to as much as 20:52 this season.

Abdelkader's most productive offensive season came in 2014-15 when he had a career-high 23 goals and 21 assists in 71 games.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill acknowledged that some of Abdelkader's loss in production is out of his control.

"When he scored 20, he playing with Hank (Henrik Zetterberg) or Pav (Pavel Datsyuk). Those guys aren't here," Blashill said. "He's had times where he's played with Larkin and sometimes the production hasn't been high when he's played with Larks but he's been a big piece of why we were able to produce offense because he's standing net front and in the goalie's eyes all the time. Sometimes those guys don't get rewarded with points.

"There's lots of people analytically out there, I'm one of them, trying to search for the best stats; where's the stat for that? Where's the stat for taking away a goalie's eyes? There is none. Nobody has it yet. But you don't produce offense if you don't take away the goalie's eyes. He's done a great job when he's been up there doing that, but it hasn't resulted in points. I've been happy with his game.

"The other thing I'd say is he's also spent time on our fourth line and it's hard to produce tons of offense when you're doing that. He's done an excellent job of buying into being a great penalty killer. He's done an excellent job of buying into saying, 'I'll do whatever it takes to help this team win.' He's really shown great leadership that way. Even when the production is not there he's helping us win and I think that's one of the best things that players can do is find ways to help you win when you're not producing and he's done a good job of that."

The veteran Abdelkader has seen other players go through rough stretches offensively so he knows how to keep a good attitude while maintaining the other aspects of his game.

"When I get the opportunity I just want to try and bear down as much as possible," Abdelkader said. "I feel like I've been getting chances but it's tough when you don't see them going in. Sometimes you overthink it a bit. As much as I can - obviously, points isn't everything in my game. I want to bring leadership on and off the ice. I think that even when I'm not getting points, as long as I'm playing the right way, finishing checks and then just trying to be around the net, be hard around those areas as much as possible."

With the injury to Tyler Bertuzzi, Abdelkader has returned to the top line with Larkin and Gustav Nyquist.

LARKIN PRACTICES: Larkin has missed just one game since straining his oblique muscle last Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs and he's hoping he doesn't have to miss another.

Larkin practiced with the team Wednesday at the Belfor Training Center for the first time since the injury.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Dylan Larkin skating. #LGRW

"He did pretty good but the biggest concern is we, the coaching staff and training staff, don't want to put him in a situation where all the sudden he's set back for two weeks," Blashill said. "So that's something we'll talk about."

Larkin did not appear hindered during practice but Blashill kept him out of battle drills to be on the safe side.

"Giving him one more day without it to make sure he's not tweaking it but we still have to feel confident he can go through the game and not get set back," Blashill said. "You never know 100 percent but that's the decision we got to make. The thing athletic staffs weigh is you don't want to hold a guy back if he's ready to play and you don't want to play a guy if he's going to have the potential to be hurt further. There's always gray in that."

Larkin benefited from the Wings having four days between games as the team won in Ottawa without him last Saturday and will host the Vegas Golden Knights Thursday night.

"I haven't really been in this situation tons with him," Blashill said. "We all know he wants to play, so he might lobby hard. But guys know when they're hurt and if he thinks he's going to hurt it worse or not be able to play at his best then … I think to hurt it worse is the bigger concern. I think if it was just a matter of fighting through pain he'd play for sure. But if there's concern that it could set him back two weeks, he doesn't want that, just like we don't want that."

BERTUZZI/DALEY UPDATE: Bertuzzi has not played or practiced since the Wings returned from the All-Star break and bye, having suffered an injury in Edmonton Jan. 22.

"Right now, it's still in the prognosis where (they) looked at his neck, his neck appears to be fine," Blashill said. "Cognitively, from a testing standpoint, he's doing all right. It's just a matter of him feeling in a spot where he's ready to start a progression and he's not quite there yet."

While Bertuzzi did not skate with the team Wednesday, defenseman Trevor Daley did again.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Practice today. Vegas tomorrow. #LGRW

"He skated yesterday, he skated today, he seems to be in a good spot," Blashill said. "He's not available tomorrow. I think at some point during our trip he'd become available. I'd have decisions to make on who's in the lineup."

Daley broke his foot while blocking a shot during the Wings' morning skate on Dec. 31.

Once Daley returns, for the first time this season the Wings would have an entirely healthy defense corps.

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