Once it appears the Wings may be getting close to fielding a lineup they envisioned way back in October, another player is lost, as the injury bug continues to plague the Detroiters.
But the Red Wings did receive some good news on Monday when power forward Anthony Mantha declared he is ready to return Tuesday in Buffalo after missing Detroit's last 20 games because of a punctured lung.
"Yeah, that's the plan. First game back (Tuesday)," Mantha told reporters after participating in Monday's optional practice at the BELFOR Training Center inside Little Caesars Arena. "We talked about it after a while. It was supposed to be at the end of the week. But then things got better and better and tomorrow is the go day."
Getting Mantha back is a gigantic lift for a Wings team that struggles to score goals. Though he's actually missed 28 of the last 32 games the Wings have played, Mantha still ranks fifth in team scoring (12-12-24) in just 29 games played.
Yet, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill wanted to tamp down the expectation level for Mantha on the eve of his return.
"The first part of the year, he was our best offensive player, most dynamic," Blashill said. "(He) had a great start to the year, got hurt (knee), came back, played three or four games and got hurt again and was never able to get back going. It feels real good to get Anthony back, but we got to be realistic in the sense that he's been out for a long time, if you combine the two injuries.
"We just got to understand he's going to have some ups and downs as he comes back to get going at full speed. It's hard at this time of year when the league is really ramping up to miss that time. It's hard to miss the beginning of the year, but when you miss this much time through the middle and now the league is really ramping up, it's super hard. We're cautiously optimistic getting him back."
Blashill indicated the Wings will not monitor Mantha's ice time.
"Not totally worried about the minutes," Blashill said. "He's been skating pretty hard here for a little bit. I think it's the timing and the game situation and the habits that are … and sometimes you might need more minutes to get moving in that situation.
"We don't have a minutes restriction on him. We'll see how he looks. I think anytime you're back in the lineup, you want to avoid long shifts, those are hard to recover from sometimes."
Mantha is eager to get back, but he realizes it will take some time to get back to playing at the level to which he's accustomed.
"It's probably still going to take a couple of games, to be honest. That's usually what it is when you're out for a long time," Mantha said. "I give myself two games to try and really get my game going where I want to be. Hopefully that goes pretty quick. Unfortunately, I've come back from injuries quite a bit but this one's a little different. A little longer but hopefully everything goes good.
"(I'll be trying) to get the conditioning and the hands back as quick as possible. Obviously, it's a lot quicker out there in the game than in practice. You need to be ready mentally and hopefully everything goes good.
"I feel great. I feel great right now. If I wasn't, I wouldn't be coming back tomorrow. It's where it's supposed to be right now, and that's exactly why we're going into tomorrow's game as the first game back."
MASH UNIT FOR RED WINGS: While Mantha's return is certainly a boost to the Red Wings' injury-riddled lineup, Blashill is unsure where several of Detroit's players stand health-wise, including a few who played in Sunday's 3-1 victory over the Bruins.
But since Monday was an optional practice, it's impossible to decipher which players who played Sunday might be unavailable for Tuesday's game in Buffalo as Blashill did not elaborate.
"Don't have any further update, got a whole bunch of unknowns," Blashill said when asked about Detroit's injury situation. "Anthony is the only one I fully expect to be back in the lineup for sure. I don't know on (Robby) Fabbri (upper-body, jaw), (Frans) Nielsen (upper-body), (Darren) Helm (undisclosed), (Madison) Bowey (left eye) should be cleared. I got to get an update, so not sure on him either."
Because so many Wings are questionable, Blashill was unable to tell the media what line Mantha will be on Tuesday night against the Sabres.
"We're going to see who's available and make that decision (Tuesday)," Blashill said.
Bowey does appear ready to rejoin the Wings after leaving early in the first period of Friday's game in Columbus with a left eye injury. Bowey did not play in Sunday's Bruins game.
"I've gotten poked in the eye or gloved in the eye and the vision comes back right away," Bowey said. "After it wasn't coming back for about a half an hour, I was starting to get a little concerned. But luckily I got to the optometrist right away during the game and he just said it was a little contusion or abrasion on my eye, my cornea. Usually those heal in 2-4 days. So far it's going well.
"It feels kind of like something's in my eye. I think for the most part, my vision's back and it's feeling good. We're just going to keep staying on the program we're doing right now and hopefully it just keeps feeling better every day.
"Yesterday morning (Sunday), I woke up and I could see decently well. I've never had this before in my life. Luckily my mom's an optician, so she's around optometrists and eye doctors all the time. She was lucky to kind of tell me what they were saying, too. It's been healing well."
In 44 games, Bowey is second among defensemen in scoring with 15 points (3-12-15), trailing only Filip Hronek, who has 28 points (9-19-28) in 55 games.
Another Red Wings member hoping to play on Tuesday is Fabbri, who absorbed a crushing check in the second period on Sunday.
"I saw it (the hit) last second. Didn't really have time to protect myself at all. Just one of those things," Fabbri said. "It kind of caught me right on the jaw so right away, I just thought it was my jaw. Then you know, the protocol from there. It's more precautionary from that point."
Because he was hit in the head, Fabbri had to go through the concussion protocol, but he assured everyone he did not suffer a concussion.
"I got hit in the jaw so I went off and the spotters called down from there and you have to go through the protocol after that just because it's in that area," Fabbri said. "(Practice) went well. Just take it a day at a time, see how you feel. I woke up feeling pretty good. I have to still talk to them (the medical staff). I just got off the ice so I don't really have an answer on that (if he's cleared to play)."
As Blashill was being asked about the injured Red Wings, the questions turned back to Mantha and whether the Wings have told the rugged winger to cool it when it comes to fighting on the ice.
"I've said this lots, we've run across this a couple times where certainly in his case, he's been hurt looking after himself, looking after his teammates. It's a fine line," Blashill said. "I don't want a locker room full of guys who don't look after each other, that's no good. But I also think you got to be super-measured, especially with him in his approach in those situations.
"We can't afford to have him continuously be out of the lineup. He's got to be real smart about that. He's the one on the ice, he has to make decisions in real time. He's just got to be real smart about that and let's go for a while without being in those situations."
SCHEDULE PLAYS HAVOC WITH PRACTICE: Beginning with Tuesday's game in Buffalo, the Red Wings will be on the road through next Sunday, playing four games with a mandatory day off Wednesday in New Jersey.
After the Buffalo game, the Wings will play the Devils on Thursday before playing back-to-back afternoon contests on Saturday in Boston and Sunday in Pittsburgh.
With the way the schedule has played out, it's made it difficult for the Wings to figure out when to practice and when to rest, especially with how many single-game road trips they've played this year.
"It's always tricky in this league and it's super tricky now. We came out of a long break, had back-to-back games, we practiced on that Sunday and looked dead tired on Monday," Blashill said. "So then you look back and say, 'Should we have not skated that day?' You never know what the reverse of that decision holds. But you try to learn from it. We do look at load management all the time.
"I work with our sporting science people and we try to make the best decisions we can, but there's a balance between energy/rest and structural play, habits. So it's a huge balance. The other thing is what are you going to get accomplished in practice if you have a certain number of guys that aren't going to practice because of how many minutes they've played?
"We've played three in three and a half days and now we got to play a fourth game in five days. If those guys aren't going to practice, you're not going to get anything done as a team, then you might as well give an opportunity to have an option and let guys do what they need to do to make sure they're ready."
Though the Wings like being in the Eastern Conference as opposed to their days in the Western Conference, there is a downside.
"One of the disadvantages of being in the East for us, if you talk to guys who've been in both (conferences), is we're the furthest west team in the East, but we aren't far enough away where we get a lot of these trips where you stay on the road, so we get a lot of one and dones, back and forth, in our beds at 3, 3:30 in the morning by the time you fall asleep and that can take its toll on you," Blashill said.