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Notes: Red Wings downplay the post-road blues

Abdelkader out with a broken cheekbone

by Arthur J. Regner @arthurjregner /

DETROIT- It has been around for as long as the expansion days of the Next Six in 1967.

The theory of the toughest game to play after a long western road trip is the first game back at home. Regardless of the opponent, every NHL team experiences the post-road blues.

It's a combination of sluggishness and melancholy where the mind and body cannot put together a spirited effort, resulting in a loss.

On Saturday, the Red Wings will play their first game back at Little Caesars Arena against Columbus after a nine-day road swing where they toured the provinces of western Canada.

But if you expect the Wings to fall prey to the post-road blues theory, think again.

Detroit does not believe it will have a letdown just because it is coming off a lengthy road trip.

"There will be zero excuse not to win the hockey game tonight, zero," a resolute Jeff Blashill said. "We're going to have to play the way we played for the most part on the road. That's efficient, smart, simple hockey.

"Columbus played last night, we had good rest. Columbus, I understand, had some plane issues, we didn't. There'll be zero excuse not to win the hockey game tonight."

Veteran defenseman Trevor Daley agrees with his head coach.

"Nowadays guys take care of themselves pretty well, we should be ready to play," Daley said. "We had a day off yesterday and we've got a team coming in that's on a back-to-back, so you put everything into it -- tonight's a game there's a good chance if we play the right way we can come out on top."

Blashill and Daley may not ascribe to the post-road blues theory, but a few of Detroit's younger players at least acknowledge the Wings must be aware there could be an emotional letdown.

"I remember last year we were west and we came back and played in Toronto. Coming back from out west is definitely tough," Dylan Larkin said. "These guys (Columbus) played last night, and obviously us coming back from the road and traveling. I personally, being young, don't feel anything but I think we've got to come out and be ready to play.

"We had a tough game in Calgary and got some tough bounces against us but we've got to go out there and create our own bounces and be ready to play from the first drop of the puck."

Forward Anthony Mantha says it comes down to preparation, especially after not playing at home for a long period of time.

"Columbus played last night," Mantha said. "I think they are not even in (Detroit) there's a plane issue or something that I heard. We need to play our game and be ready and get the win tonight.

"We had a day off yesterday to recover from the long road trip. We need to be ready tonight."

MANTHA THE MARKED MAN: Mantha has been on a scoring tear lately and leads the Wings in points with 16, including eight goals and eight assists.

"I can't lie. I'm pretty happy with my start," Mantha said. "I knew I wanted to come into this season and just have a good start and confidence could build up from there. I think it's working my way right now and I need to keep going this way."

When he was asked about the opposition keying in on him, making it more difficult for him to find his spots on the ice, Mantha says it comes with the territory.

"Maybe a little bit but as soon as you play on a line with (Henrik) Zetterberg, he always faces those top Ds on the other side," he said. "For me, it's been a couple games I've been on his line. We've played against them (top lines) and even last year we played against the top D, so for me it's just to keep doing the simple things and things I'm good at.

"It's a great challenge for sure. You like playing against the best on the other side. I think for me it's to keep going the way I am and shooting more pucks and making plays. Just keep pushing offensively."

One aspect of Mantha's game which may have caught the opposition off guard is his deft passing. His two assists against Calgary were highlight-reel stuff.

"Yeah, for sure. That's just how I am. That's the kind of plays I can do," Mantha responded. "I just need to keep going that way. Obviously, being bigger than most of the other guys helps me out to win a couple of battles or just being a net presence on that power play, so I think it's a good thing to have."

NIELSEN QUIETLY EFFICIENT: Heading into this season, Detroit believed it would see a much better player in Frans Nielsen than the one from last year.

By Nielsen's own admission, last season's adjustment to the Red Wings and Michigan was difficult after spending his entire career with the New York Islanders. But that is all in the past.

In 17 games played, Nielsen has six goals among eight points and is a plus-2, which is third-best on the team.

"He does everything and does it really well," Larkin said about Nielsen. "He's probably one of the most unselfish players I've seen. It's fun to watch him play. He's playing great right now.

"He's got that patience with the puck. In the full game I've played with him, playing on his line, he doesn't say much but he's waiting for his chance to strike and capitalizing on his opportunities."

After accumulating just 41 points in 79 games for the Wings last season, including just 17 goals and being a minus-19, you couldn't help but think if the Wings may have made a major mistake in signing Nielsen to a long-term and lucrative contract in free agency.

Yet the Wings were not concerned because of his stellar reputation throughout the NHL

"He is great if you're a coach because he's a complete player. He does it right. He plays 200 feet," Blashill said. "He's been well-schooled that way. I coached with Jack Capuano (former Islanders coach) at the world championships and Jack thinks the world of him. I think the world of him. I know Tampa played him in the playoffs two years ago and Jon Cooper thought the world of him as an opponent.

"He's a winning hockey player, and you can't have enough winning hockey players. There's lots of flashy guys, there's some guys in the league who put points up but they're not all winning hockey players. He's a winning hockey player."

ABDELKADER OUT: Apparently during Justin Abdelkader's fight with the Flames' Troy Brouwer Thursday night in Calgary, Detroit's alternate captain suffered a fractured cheekbone.

"Abdelkader has a fracture in his cheek. He'll see a specialist," Blashill said. "We certainly think it's going to be short-term, but he'll see a specialist and we'll have more details for Wednesday's game tomorrow (Monday)."

Blashill was unable to officially call Abdelkader day-to-day.

"I don't know what you call that, you call it what you want but that's what it is," he said. "He's going to see a specialist on Monday and we'll have more from there. We don't anticipate it being a real long-term thing but 'til he sees the specialist, we don't know."

Abdelkader is one of the few Wings willing to mix it up on the ice and any significant time missed should open the door for more playing time for rugged forward/defenseman Luke Witkowski.

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