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Notes: Space is tight for goal scorers

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
A pair of 20-goal scorers, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar have had difficulty finding the back of the net recently. The two have scored one goal each this month. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – Lately, offense has been a concern for the team with the most 20-goal scorers in the NHL.

Detroit has four goals in the past three games, and half of those goals came from 20-goal guys Erik Cole and Justin Abdelkader in Sunday’s overtime victory against the St. Louis Blues.

“They’re hard fought games,” said Gustav Nyquist, who has 22 goals this season, but just one in the last 14 games.

“Every team is battling for their playoff lives,” Nyquist added. “They want to play good and get ready for the playoffs. It’s going to be hard-checking games, not a lot of room but you just have to learn to fight through that and find open space.”

There have been stretches this season when the Red Wings – who still own the league’s top-rated power play – have been far more troubling for opposing goalies than they have been in the last three games. But it’s that time of year when defenses tighten up as every team, regardless of their playoff status, has something to play for.

Even clubs that are out of playoff contention – like the Arizona Coyotes, who visit Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday – still have reason to play hard.

“They’re still a dangerous team,” said goalie Jimmy Howard, who is expected to start against Arizona. “You still got guys on there that are playing for contracts. They’re trying to impress people throughout the league. So no matter what, you’re still gonna get guys with a lot of pride, and looking to play for jobs.”

More importantly for the Wings is getting to the playoffs for a 24th consecutive season. With 11 games remaining in the regular season, the Wings have a decent, but not safe, lead over Boston, Ottawa and Florida for the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Division.

The Wings know they much play better than the 4-6-0 record in the last 10 games indicates.

“You like winning, it’s a lot more fun than losing,” coach Mike Babcock said. “In saying all that, how you play is real important. The process is real important, getting better each and every day. When you understand that and you believe that, you’re more likely to stick to it. There’s lots of times during the year when things don’t go the way you want. There’s time when they go better than you deserve. You take all that and you just want your ups to be long than your downs. Ideally, we’ve worked our way through it. We’ve got a team that’s going to work real hard in Arizona tomorrow. The St. Louis game is over with. We’ve got to get ready for tomorrow.”

On Sunday, the Wings became the only team in the league to boast five 20-goal scorers when Abdelkader joined the likes of Tomas Tatar (26), Pavel Datsyuk (23) and Cole (21) by reaching the milestone with his game-winner.

“We’re just not relying solely on one person every single night, I think that’s huge,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “When you’ve got different guys who can score for you night in and night out it makes you an even more dangerous team.”

However, the top five goal scorers, with the exception of Abdelkader and Cole, have had difficulty finding the back of the net in their last 10 games. Datsyuk, who has been out with a lower-body injury, has two goals in his past 10. Tatar and Nyquist have scored once each in March. And captain Henrik Zetterberg has one goal since Jan. 29.

“Goals are going to be scored in front of the net,” Nyquist said. “You saw both goals yesterday were right in front. Abby’s last goal, great battle in front so that’s something you have to take to your game, get in front and get some crazy goals.”

While Babcock believes that tight checking limits time and space for goal scorers is to blame the Wings’ recent drought, players must remain mentally strong and play through it.

“It’s interesting,” Babcock said. “As a goal scorer, every time you get the puck when you’re scoring you shoot it. Why? Because it’s going in. And then when you aren’t scoring goals you don’t shoot it and then you wonder why it’s not going in. Maybe you should just do what you always did and shoot the puck and get in on the inside and win more battles and be good defensively. And then everything will turn.”

Pavel Datsyuk
Center  - DET
Goals: 23 | Assists: 35 | Pts: 58
Shots: 149 | +/-: 11
DATSYUK UPDATE: Datsyuk practiced with the team for the first time since a lower-body injury forced him to stay home when the Red Wings traveled to Florida for a two-game road trip last week.

Datsyuk has missed the last three games, and all but declared himself unavailable for Tuesday’s home game against the Coyotes. The Wings also play home games this week against San Jose on Thursday, and Tampa Bay on Saturday afternoon.

“I feel OK. It’s not ready to play,” Datsyuk said. “I think I need more skate with team and I’ll feel more better.”

In 14 games without Datsyuk, the Red Wings have scored 36 goals (2.57 per game).In 57 games with him, Detroit has scored 165 goals (2.89 per game).

“Obviously I don’t know when he’s going to play,” Babcock said, “but when he’s ready he will.”

HELM BABY MAKES TWO: Darren Helm had a good reason for missing practice Monday morning at JLA.

Sunday evening following the Wings’ win over St. Louis, the 28-year-old became a father for a second time when his significant other gave birth to daughter No. 2.

“Helmer and his bride are happy parents, so he was busy last night,” Babcock said. “Or she was busy and he was watching. I don’t know how that works.”

Helm and his girlfriend have a three-year-old daughter, Reece, together.

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