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Notes: Green, Nielsen to miss game in Minnesota

Wings held long team meeting before optional practice; Mantha 'a ways away'

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

ST. PAUL -- The Red Wings are getting a very harsh lesson in persevering through injuries this season.

It seems that a player goes down almost every game these days.

Last Saturday, center Valtteri Filppula lasted just 4:12 before exiting with a lower-body injury.

Fortunately Filppula was able to play Monday afternoon in Colorado against the Avalanche but then the Wings lost two more players.

Center Frans Nielsen played just 1:59 before leaving with an upper-body injury in the first period.

Defenseman Mike Green made it to the second period, playing 8:54 before leaving with an upper-body injury.

"Mike will be out for a couple weeks and Fransy is out tomorrow as well," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said after the team's optional practice at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

The Wings have already lost 205 man-games to injury this season, with Nielsen already missing five and Green having missed nine due to other injuries.

"It's just hard," Blashill acknowledged. "It's one of those things that happens in hockey and it's unfortunate. Good part is it involves the break, so you're not missing as much action, so hopefully (Green) can get back, and everybody hopefully will be back somewhat soon after the break and can get going."

With loss comes opportunity for others, including young defensemen like Madison Bowey, who played 23:57 Monday, his second-most ice time this season.

"(Green plays) a big role in our back end," Bowey said. "He logs a lot of minutes, plays against the top lines and I think we have a lot of guys that have to step up, myself included. I know I can be better. I'm looking forward to it. Defense is what I pride myself in and I'm excited to hopefully get some bigger minutes and play a bigger role and make sure I can help this team get a few wins here down the stretch."

Jonathan Ericsson, who is able to play after recovering from a broken nose suffered Dec. 15 against the Los Angeles Kings, and Christoffer Ehn, who was a healthy scratch Monday, are available.

But Blashill said he would consult with general manager Steve Yzerman and then call someone up from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who has missed the last five games with a lower-body injury but worked on the ice for more than an hour with backup Calvin Pickard and goaltending coach Jeff Salajko before the optional practice, could be ready soon after the break.

"I can't say that he'll be ready for those New York games or not," Blashill said. "Some of that might be based on lack of practice time because of the break, but he's trending towards being back soon after the break, if not right away."

MEETING TIME: Although only 11 players took part in the optional on-ice practice, every player was part of a lengthy meeting beforehand.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Practice day in Minnesota. 🏒

"It was a meeting that I wasn't going to leave until we had it straight," Blashill said. "We gotta get better. I talked about it last night. We gotta get better in our D zone coverage. So until everybody had a chance to make sure everyone understood, we weren't leaving that meeting. If we went a little long, it went a little long."

Bowey said he thought everyone got a lot out of the meeting.

"Just right now I think it comes down to structure for us, supporting each other all around the ice," Bowey said. "I think in the D-zone especially, we got to close quicker, make sure it's harder for other teams to get their top players rolling around in our defensive zone and I think just focus on that. I think we have a really good structure put in place by the coaching staff and if we just follow that, do that to the best of our abilities, it puts us in good spots to come away with wins. I think that's certainly a focus now, focusing on doing the little things right, supporting each other all around the ice and knowing who we have to cover and knowing when to shut down plays."

Blashill said against the Avalanche, they spent way too much time in the defensive zone.

"We still struggle at times to get the puck out of our end," Blashill said. "We have to do a better job of making sure the support's there, making sure we're talking, and the guy with the puck, making better decisions. And sometimes that play is just to put it into space. I think one thing we still gotta better at is once you turn one puck over, you can't turn another one over. And I don't care if you ice it, you just can't let the chaos that happens from turnovers continue to happen. It's something we're still working on."

Although there is communication on the ice, there could be even more.

"It's huge. I think that's all it is," Bowey said. "We're talking, we're communicating. Previously, when I was in Washington, they have a lot of success because of that. Communication is huge and I know when we're hearing each other and helping each other, that makes everyone's job a lot easier and it helps us get out of our defensive zone a lot quicker."

The focus is often on the defensemen but the onus is on all five skaters on the ice to play as a defensive unit.

"You gotta have guys wanting the puck," Blashill said. "You gotta have guys in the right spots. And then you gotta deliver the puck in the right spot. It's everybody. Sometimes, the more pressure you're under, the more important it is to talk and have guys in the right spots. Our job is to try to train our guys to be in the right spots. Their job is to go out and execute that. I think we've been better at being in the right spots. Last night, we had a few where I think a little more talk, a little bit more want the puck would've helped us."

ATHANASIOU CLOSER THAN MANTHA: Forward Andreas Athanasiou, out since suffering a lower-body injury Dec. 29 in Tampa, is expected to return more quickly than forward Anthony Mantha, out since suffering a mid-body injury Dec. 21 in Toronto.

"(Mantha's) still a ways away, a month maybe," Blashill said. "It's not a progress thing. I don't know if I gave you a bad timeline to start. I don't remember the timeline I gave you, to be honest with you. It just is what it is. It's gonna be a long process before he's healed."

Unlike Mantha, Athanasiou had started skating before the team left.

"His is a healable thing that will be healed. It just depends on when," Blashill said. "When Anthony is going at a full go, and when Doubles is going, that our team is better for it. The same would be true of Danny DeKeyser. He gets missed in this deal because he's been out the whole year. That's life and we gotta find a way to deal with it."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Happy birthday, Helmer! 🥳

MINI-GAME: With a limited number of players on the ice, assistant coach Doug Houda divided the players into two teams, red versus black and white, for a small game at one end of the ice.

Pickard, who had already worked over an hour, was the only goaltender playing.

The first team to three goals was the winner, with the black and white team prevailing in the end, coming back from a 2-0 deficit.

Tweet from @Dwakiji: #RedWings White/Black team defeats Red team, 3-2.

"It is nice. Obviously, right now we're just trying to find ways to stay positive, making sure we're ready to go every night," Bowey said. "It was nice to have this meeting that we had today and then go out there and have a nice skate. It gives the guys confidence. We all play this game because we love it and I think that brings the love back in the game a little bit. I know it's kind of a nice reset to get ready to go tomorrow night."

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