MONTREAL – Magic Man will make his season debut when the puck drops between the Red Wings and Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre.
“He’s back tonight and gives him an opportunity to get going,” said coach Mike Babcock said, referring to Pavel Datsyuk. “Anytime you’ve missed all of training camp and the start of the season it’s going to take you a while to get going but we’re optimistic he can help us.”
Datsyuk missed the last seven preseason games and the first five games of the regular season with a separated right shoulder that he sustained in the waning minutes of the preseason opener in Pittsburgh on Sept. 22.
It’s the first time in his decorated 13-season career that he missed a Red Wings’ season opener.
Fortunately, the nature of his injury allowed Datsyuk to continue skating on a regular basis at team practices for the past several weeks. Though his shoulder injury prevented him from participating in any contact drills until recently, the veteran center has been able to keep up his aerobic activity and has looked fantastic in practices as well as today’s morning skate.
This morning, Datsyuk was back on the top line, though he was positioned on the left wing with center Henrik Zetterberg and opposite right wing Justin Abdelkader. It’s not clear how or if Datsyuk will get playing time at his usual center position, though he believes he will see some time in the middle.
Wary of declaring himself in full-mode game shape, Datsyuk said, “you practice you can do a lot of different things but sometimes it doesn’t work well, and when the game starts it’s different with all stop and go, and we’ll see tonight.”
Babcock wasn’t so sure how Datsyuk’s return affects the Wings’ chances against the Canadiens, who won five of their first six games to open the season – their best start since 2008-09.
“I don’t know if he changes it at all now,” Babcock said. “When he’s healthy he changes it a lot. You can play him in the middle, you can play him on the wall, you can play him with Z, you can play him on his own, there’s lots of things you can do with him. Until I see him play tonight I won’t know where he’s at.”
It’s difficult to pick one thing the Wings’ lineup misses in Datsyuk’s absence. He’s a tremendous contributor to the power play, a tenacious two-way centerman, and crafty as can be in the offensive zone in five on five situations. Zetterberg said he can’t pick just one thing that the team misses most.
“He’s always magic when he’s on the ice,” he said. “When you see him every day in practice it amazes every time you see him do something crazy and then a couple days later he tries it in games and most of the time he succeeds.”
The Red Wings have done well to this point without Datsyuk in the lineup. They suffered just one regulation loss through five games (3-1-1), which is their best season start since 2011-12 (5-0-0).
However, Datsyuk’s return can be a blessing for a power play that has struggled thus far, and is just 2-for-21 with the man advantage.
“We haven’t been scoring enough goals,” said Gustav Nyquist, who has a team-high four goals. “We’ve been creating chances but just haven’t put the puck in the net. He knows how to do that and he’s really good offensively on the power play. That’s going to help us for sure.”
Datsyuk’s return should also help with the five on five.
“He just adds a whole different element to our team,” Abdelkader said. “I mean, opposing teams have to key on him and be aware of him all over the ice. I think he’s really going to help our power play, our power play as struggled in the first five games. But I think just having him out there, him with the puck is always dangerous, no matter where he’s at or whether it’s the power play or five-on-five. I think he will help that way, I think he looks like he’s kept in really great shape and he’s been able to skate with his injury, which has been big. I think he’ll jump in tonight and be ready to go.”
Asked how he thought his conditioning level would be in his first meaningful game since Game 5 of the playoff opening series against Bosotn, Datsyuk brushed it aside.
“I needed to feel (it) in a game,” Datsyuk said. “Practice (is) different level and we’ll see tonight, and tomorrow I can explain to you after the game how it is feeling.”
TREND BREAKERS: It’s been nearly seven years since the Red Wings last claimed a regulation victory in Montreal. On Dec. 4, 2007, Datsyuk scored twice and added an assist as the Red Wings fired 34 shots at Carey Price en route to a 4-1 win over the Habs.
Today is just the fifth time since then that the Red Wings will play in Montreal. The previous four trips have resulted in a 1-1-2 record for Detroit, who won in overtime here last February.
“Even when we were playing well last year down the stretch they beat us twice in a row,” Babcock said. “They seem to generate offense against us and I checked the chances, they out-chanced us in one of the two games. But the chances in both games were too high for me to be comfortable so we’re going to have to be good without it.”
Detroit’s all-time road record against the Canadiens is 70-174-43-0.
KRONNER MILESTONE: Niklas Kronwall
Defense - DET
Goals: - | Assists: - | Pts: -
Shots: - | +/-: -
will skate in his 600th career game in the NHL tonight. Only five other defensemen have played in more games for the Red Wings – Gary Bergman
(706), Reed Larson
(708), Red Kelly
(846), Marcel Pronovost
(983) and Nicklas Lidstrom
Kronwall is also two points shy of reaching the 300 point plateau, and five points from catching Bergman for fourth all-time in the franchise’s history for defensemen scoring.
SUBWAY PROSPECTS: The Canadian Hockey League announced today the junior rosters for the Ontario Hockey League team that will compete in next month’s 2014 SUBWAY Super Series against the Russian National Junior Team.
Red Wings prospects Tyler Bertuzzi (Guelph Storm) and Zach Nastasiuk (Owen Sound Attack) are among the 32 OHL players who will play in Peteborough (Nov. 13) and Kingston (Nov. 17).
Basically, Hockey Canada uses the series is a tryout for the Canadian national team that will compete in the World Junior Championship which will be held in Montreal and Toronto, beginning Dec. 26.
ON THIS DAY: On Oct. 21, 1973, the Red Wings trounce the California Seals, 11-2, as center Guy Charron led the way with three goals at Olympia Stadium. It was one of 32 times in the club’s 89 seasons that they managed to score 10 or more goals in a game. The feat was most recently accomplished on Dec. 2, 1995 at the Montreal Forum.