CALGARY – One step forward and two steps back.
That’s the ridiculous roster trend that continues to unfortunately follow the Red Wings as they begin a stretch of three games in western Canada this week.
The Red Wings will welcome Valtteri Filppula back to the lineup tonight against the Calgary Flames. But they’ll be without goalie Jimmy Howard and defenseman Ian White at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Howard, who traveled with the team to western Canada on Tuesday, reported is ill and not available for tonight’s game. Backup Jonas Gustavsson will make his third start for the Red Wings.
Asked why White wasn’t at the morning skate, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said, “Personal reasons.” The Wings’ coach said that rookie Brian Lashoff will play, and that fourth-line winger Jordin Tootoo would be a game-time decision for tonight’s game.
But regardless of who’s in and who’s out, the Red Wings need wins, especially against the Flames, who have experienced their own struggles lately losing four of the last six games.
“We have a game today. They have to be desperate for points and we have to be desperate for points,” Babcock said. “Our road record isn’t good enough. We think we’ve done lots of good things as a team of late, and yet, we’ve won when we give up one (goal). When we give up two (goals) we haven’t won, so we have to continue to play well without the puck, and we have to find a way to generate offense. Our power play is 19th in the league at home and it’s 0-fer on the road, so we have to fix that, and just continue to get better.”
Filppula missed seven games with a sprained left shoulder suffered on Feb. 24 against Vancouver. Babcock said Wednesday afternoon that Filppula will skate on the Wings’ top forward line with center Henrik Zetterberg and winger Damien Brunner.
A similar one-in and one-out situation occurred last month when Johan Franzen returned from a hip flexor injury on Feb. 27 in Los Angeles. It was that game that Filppula sat out the first of seven.
“We just got Franzen back a few games ago and he’s turning around, and the difference between him and Fil, Fil was able to skate while he was injured, so obviously that’s a big boost for us,” Babcock said. “For Z to have someone to go with and (Pavel) Datsyuk to have someone to go with I think that’s real important. We’re average to say the least without those guys.”
Justin Abdelkader and Franzen will at least begin tonight’s game on Datsyuk’s line, Babcock said. Daniel Cleary will play on the third line with rookie center Joakim Andersson and recently called up Gustav Nyquist.
Gustavsson said he learned of Howard’s illness this morning. And while it’s unusual to receive late notice, Gustavsson said being ready for the unexpected is part of the role of a veteran backup.
“Usually you know the day before,” he said, “but doesn't matter if you're starting or backing up, you’ve got to prepare, because you never know what happens.”'
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