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Notes: Healthy Wings feel better this year

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Veteran fourth-line forward Drew Miller is the Red Wings' current iron man, having played in 147 consecutive games dating back to the 2013 season. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – Following a relaxing off day, the Red Wings returned to the ice Wednesday morning to prepare for an upcoming stretch of three games in four days against Columbus, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Rest has definitely done plenty of good for the Wings this season, especially as it relates to the players’ overall health.

Detroit is one of two NHL teams with a league-leading eight players who have played every game this season. The eight Wings are Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Luke Glendening, Drew Miller, and Marek Zidlicky, who played all 64 games with New Jersey before he was traded to Detroit last week.

“Really? I did not know that,” said goalie Jimmy Howard, who has missed 13 games with injuries this season.

What a difference a year makes.

By comparison, the Wings had two skaters – Miller and Kyle Quincey – appear in all 82 last season, and four play all 48 in the 2013 lockout-shortened campaign. That season Kronwall, Justin Abdelkader, Daniel Cleary and Cory Emmerton played in every contest.

Washington is the other team with eight players to appear in every game this season.

The team’s overall improved health is partly the reason why the Wings have registered eight more wins and 14 more points through the same 65-game period from a season ago. The leadership group led by Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Kronwall, Ericsson and Howard has remaining far less dinged up from last season when all but Kronwall missed significant time with injuries.

Aside from Zetterberg and Ericsson, who each underwent surgery, the Wings were plagued by numerous groin problems and other soft-tissue injuries in 2013-14. Since then, the training staff and strength and conditioning coach Pete Renzetti placed a greater emphasis on eliminating injuries to ligaments, muscles and tendons throughout the body.

“We put more work into off-ice workouts,” said Ericsson, who is 17 games from playing in every game in a season for the first time in his career.

“The trainers have done a better job, not saying they haven’t done a good job before, but I think they’ve done a better job of really getting guys on top of things early and not having injuries escalate by taking care of it sooner than later,” Ericsson added. “We know that we’ve been at the top of man-games lost the last few years and it’s been hurting us. I think just seeing the different guys that we’re bringing in for acupuncture and chiropractors and how we do with things in our rehab with our physical trainer, everything is a part of it. It’s definitely been a change this year.”

The club’s improved health has led to better individual confidence as well as long-term chemistry among teammates – two critical components to any team’s success.

“I think it’s bigger than everyone thinks it is,” Ericsson said. “You’re in the flow for the whole season and if you get injured you have to start all over again and it takes awhile to get back into it and your confidence isn’t going to be up there.”

The Wings had 421 man-games lost to injury in 2013-14, second most in the NHL only to Pittsburgh (529). But this season, the drop off in injuries – through Monday’s game against Edmonton the Wings had 161 man-games lost – has been attributed to a concoction of things.

“I think it’s a mixture,” Howard said. “I’m a lot smarter about things this year, and I think we’ve finally found a good balance of that. It’s just paying dividends for us in keeping guys healthy.

“Believe it or not, even though you want to go the deepest in the playoffs, we went there for a couple of years where we just couldn’t seem to stay healthy. I think the rest really helped us a lot.”

Contact injuries, like those that happened this season to Howard (groin tear), Johan Franzen (concussion) and Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder) are unavoidable. It’s the other injuries that are more preventable, Ericsson said.

“There’s going to be bad breaks, like Mule you can’t do anything about and Monster the last time,” he said. “Those things happen, but when it’s groins and hip flexors and stuff like that, it’s been a huge difference and we feel that in the group and it’s a different feeling.”

Early recognition and making the training staff aware of little injuries before they blow up into bigger problems has also been helpful in keeping the Wings on the ice.

“Guys are trying to feel their bodies more and letting the trainers know when something isn’t right,” Ericsson said. “This way the trainers may have a different approach. They’re specific with everything and doing everything they can do. When we go off-ice and train, he (Renzetti) knows who’s got problems with what, and he’s adapting workouts for that.”

The last time the Wings had eight players play every game in a season was in 1956-57, when Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Dutch Reibel, Red Kelly, Lorne Ferguson, Metro Prystai, Marcel Pronovost and Glenn Hall each played all 70 games.

The club record for most players playing every game in a single-season is 10, which they've done twice, in 1935-36 and again in 1952-53.

Miller is the Red Wings current iron man, having played in 147 consecutive regular-season games. He’s followed by Zidlicky (118), Nyquist (109), Tatar (100), and Glendening (88).

Here is list of NHL teams with number of players who have played every game this season: Detroit 8; Washington 8; Chicago 7; Montreal 7; Nashville 6; Philadelphia 6; New York Islanders 5; New York Rangers 5; Los Angeles 5; Colorado 5; Tampa Bay 5; San Jose 5; Boston 4; Winnipeg 4; Dallas 3; Minnesota 3; St. Louis 3; Florida 3; Toronto 3; Anaheim 2; Calgary 2; Edmonton 2; Vancouver 2; Carolina 2; Columbus 2; Ottawa 2; Pittsburgh 2; Arizona 1; Buffalo 1; New Jersey 1.

Darren Helm
Center  - DET
Goals: 13 | Assists: 16 | Pts: 29
Shots: 127 | +/-: 8
INJURY UPDATE: Center Darren Helm and defenseman Alexey Marchenko skated with the team Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena. Both players are recovering from strained oblique muscles.

Helm skated with his teammates for the first time since leaving the Feb. 28 game at Nashville.

“We saw him today. I told him I was calling his name out on the bench but he wasn’t out there last game, so we’d like to see him sooner or later,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I think he’ll be back here. Not for Columbus but after that.”

Whether or not Helm is ready for the Wings two-day trip into Pennsylvania this weekend – Philadelphia Saturday afternoon and Pittsburgh the next day – Marchenko doesn’t expected to be rushed back into the lineup.

For Marchenko, who has been skating since early last week, Wednesday was the first time he’s felt near 100 percent.

“It’s good, I can shoot, I can do slap shots no problem,” he said. “It was like my first real practice where I was shooting. I can do everything.”

With seven other defensemen currently up with the team, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to rush Marchenko back too soon.

“Trainer said I need to practice more, because this was like my first full practice,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes next practice, see how it feels tomorrow.

“They’ll decide. I’m just doing my best to be ready for the games. They tell me what to do and I’m doing this.”

STUMBLING PK: The Red Wings’ penalty kill has equaled a season low, allowing opposing power plays to score in each of the past seven games.

The only difference is this time the Wings record is 4-3-0 while allowing eight power-play goals in 28 chances.

“They’re finding ways to get the pucks in on our penalty kill right now,” Ericsson said. “We had the bounces with us earlier in the year when no pucks went in. Right now, it’s hard. We’re playing the same way, it’s a little frustrating to see the puck go in every night. I think it’s a few games in a row now the puck’s been going in. We just have to stay with it. We believe in our system.”

Detroit surrendered power-play goals in seven straight games in January, killing 15-of-25 power plays from Jan. 15-31. But the club went 6-1-0 during that stretch.

“I just think confidence is a big thing whether it be on the power play or the penalty kill,” Babcock said. “Right now we’re a little on our heels. We’ve spent too much time in our zone on our penalty kill. Our forecheck and our retrievals are stand at our line before going. Our retrievals haven’t been as good on the PK so we’ve got to fix it.”

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