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Notes: Nielsen progressing close to returning

Red Wings focused on winning games, not their playoff situation

by Arthur J. Regner @arthurjregner /

DETROIT -- Before they embarked on a four-game road trip through California and Colorado, the Red Wings held a spirited practice Sunday morning at the BELFOR Training Center.

Injured forward Frans Nielsen joined his teammates for the first time on the ice since he was belted into the boards by Boston's David Backes with seconds left in the first period last Tuesday night in Beantown.

Nielsen suffered what is officially being called an upper-body injury, but he admitted after Sunday's practice that he has been going through "the (concussion) protocol" and is hopeful he can return to the Wings lineup sometime this week.

"Feeling fine actually. I was on the bike when the guys were in Columbus and I had a hard workout yesterday and this was the first day on the ice, so I had three really good days now," Nielsen said. "It's going in the right direction. I'm not sure what the next step is. Still a few more steps before I can play.

"It's just a matter of passing all those protocols now. So, I think hopefully tomorrow (Monday) I can do some battle drills and get pushed a little bit and see how I react to that. I'm feeling pretty good."

He hasn't exhibited any warning signs of a concussion; however, the Wings and Nielsen are being cautious.

"I remember everything, no memory losses," Nielsen said. "Never really had any issues before. We played it a little safe to really make sure there was nothing. I haven't really had any of the symptoms. I had a little bit of a headache. I wasn't sensitive to noise or lights, I didn't have any of those red flags. So, I've kind of been OK, we think, but we played it safe."

If he's feeling strange about anything, it's being out of the lineup. Nielsen has been a very durable player during his 12-year NHL career.

"It's never fun," he said. "It was so quick. I had a couple (injuries) where I was out longer earlier in my career. It's really tough because you're not around the guys a lot, you don't really feel part of the team when you're out. Hopefully this was a quick one. At least I get to go on the trip and be with them."

Nielsen is optimistic he will be back playing during Detroit's four-game trip and the Wings are expecting him to be available soon.

"I don't anticipate him ready tomorrow (Monday versus San Jose)," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said after Sunday's practice. "I anticipate him being ready for Thursday (against the Los Angeles Kings) but we'll see.

"It's good that he seems to be progressing fast here. Again, won't be ready for tomorrow but certainly will be happy to have him back in the lineup. He's a real good NHL player. You get a little bit thin when you have the trade of (Tomas) Tatar and then injuries. It just makes you a little bit thin. It'll be good to get him back."

In 66 games this season, Nielsen has 14 goals among his 28 points, he's plus-3 and is averaging 15:50 of ice time per game. He has scored three game-winners and is winning 46.30 percent of his face-offs.

WINGS AWARE OF THEIR PLIGHT: It doesn't take a world-class mathematician to figure out the Wings' playoff chances are dim.

They trail Columbus for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference by 14 points with 14 regular season games left on their schedule, but despite the near impossible odds, the Wings are approaching each game with a must-win mentality.

"I think it's a process," defenseman Mike Green said. "It's a mindset right now, obviously this time of the season a big chunk of it is mental. We have to make sure we're going into these games with the right process, right mind frame.

"Not only that, we've got to compete really hard every night to make sure we're giving ourselves a chance. I think with that mentality we'll get our wins here. It's just unfortunate we have to make sure we win pretty much every night. There is a big task ahead of us."

If Detroit cannot string together a plethora of wins in the coming weeks, the players vow they will continue to play hard with their sole purpose of winning hockey games and getting better.

"Regardless of where we are in the standings, it's about coming in and doing it right every day," alternate captain Niklas Kronwall said. "You work hard and you get rewarded for it. If you don't work hard, it's going to show right away.

"We haven't been good enough here as of late. We need to get out of there as soon as possible. It just hasn't been nearly good enough when it comes to all the small details of the game -- the stick battles, the positioning. And when we do get our chances, we have to make the most of them.

"If you look at the bigger picture, this isn't just now. What we're doing right now is preparing ourselves, the young guys, for next year and for their careers, really. You (have to) learn to do it right and learn that you're coming to work every day."

The Wings have been competitive in most games with an occasional stinker thrown into the mix so Blashill has been pleased with his team's effort for the most part.

"Our guys have come to play hard most nights, really hard. Nobody's going to be perfect, that's reality," Blashill said. "Our job is to push for perfection and when you're pushing for it, you have that understanding that you're probably never going to reach it but hopefully you get to the highest level you can along the way.

"I think our guys have done a good job, we have really good leadership in here. We've got good, young guys that want to be better and let's keep working."

SVECHNIKOV IS THIRD CALL-UP FROM GRAND RAPIDS: It was believed once Nielsen returned to the Wings lineup, Detroit would have to make a decision on forward Evgeny Svechnikov, whether to return him to Grand Rapids or keep him in Detroit.

Svechnikov was called up on an emergency basis when Nielsen was hurt, but since the Wings sat a healthy player (David Booth) against Vegas and Svechnikov played, it nullified his emergency status, so Detroit officially called him up from the Griffins.

Once Nielsen returns, it appears Svechnikov will remain in Detroit.

After the NHL trade deadline, the Wings are allowed four call-ups from the Griffins to add to their roster. They used the first two on Jared Coreau and Tyler Bertuzzi to make them eligible for the AHL playoffs, so Svechnikov is the third.

Blashill is not sure the Wings will call up a fourth player from Grand Rapids, but he intends to keep Svechnikov in the lineup for now.

"I haven't played him enough probably yet. I played him nine minutes the first night, I played him five the other night. I'd like to get him more minutes than that," Blashill said. "He's got to grab onto those minutes when he gets them to play him more. That's part of this business, not just being given stuff, you got to make sure you grab it. I anticipate him seeing some more minutes the next game.

"I think part of it for me too is the fact that we hadn't practiced really all week leading up to those games, GR had a combination of days off and there was an immigration thing that had to get taken care of. Hopefully he feels more comfortable now where he's ready to be able to excel and gain some more minutes.

"I'm asking our guys to compete like crazy, work their tails off and I'm going to put the guys out there that I think will help us win the hockey game. Certainly, we want to get a look at Svech but he's got to make sure that he's good enough that he's outplaying somebody so that I'm putting the guys out there to win a hockey game."

KRONWALL FEELS GOOD, SAYS PLAY NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Over the past few seasons Kronwall has dealt with a wonky left knee, which is a chronic condition.

Heading into this season, there was speculation the veteran defenseman may face retirement based on his condition.

After missing training camp and the Wings' first three games of the regular season, Kronwall has played in every game this year.

"To be honest with you I haven't really thought too much about that," Kronwall said. "To me, it's all about trying to play better. I haven't been good enough. Of course, at the end of the day, I might look back and say it was fun that I got to play, but right now, when you're in it, I (must) make the most of it, and I (must) be better than I have."

In 65 games, Kronwall has three goals and 16 assists. He is minus-16 and is averaging 18:29 of ice time per game.

Despite being disappointed in his season, Kronwall was asked if he has thought about returning next year to finish out the final year of his contract since his knee has held up well this year.

"No," he said flatly. "Right now, all our focus is on what can we do right now? I feel we'll make the most of it this year and we'll take it from there."

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