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Overcoming injuries is top priority for Red Wings

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Coach Mike Babcock has been down the injury road before, but not like the current path that his Red Wings are now forced to navigate.

“I’ve had serious injuries before,” Babcock said. “I’ve never had them at the start of the season. The toughest part about the start of the season is that you get injured before you get your confidence. That’s the hardest time.

“If you get your confidence and you get playing good and you get your kids of age, then you get injured, you can usually fight through it a little easier. So this is a challenge for us, but that’s a part of life.”

The Wings (7-5-3) will have to get better without three forwards that have all landed on IR since the home opener last month. Johan Franzen (ACL), Valtteri Filppula (wrist fracture) and Jason Williams (broken fibula) will be of the line-up for a significant chunk of games. And defenseman Andreas Lilja (concussion-like symptoms) remains on IR since sustaining his injury last February.

Williams is the latest Red Wing bitten by the injury bug. He went into the boards hard with Leafs defenseman Jeff Finger during the first period Saturday and fell ackwardly on his right leg.

“You just have to come to work everyday and be prepared to play games,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself or think of what could have been if these guys were here. This is what we have right now and this is what we have to deal with and we have to fight through. Guys said this the other day. The younger players will get a chance to play a little bit more. Get a chance to get more ice-time in some different situations, so I think in a way these younger guys will get more time to play.”

Since Babcock’s arrival before the start of the 2005-06 campaign, the Red Wings have been one of the top specialty teams in the league, always finishing among the top squads in penalty-kill and power-play results. But this season -- partly because of the abundance of injuries, partly because of the loss of 88 goals from last season’s roster – the Wings have struggled.

Through 15 games, the Wings are in the middle of the pack on the power-play -- ranked No. 15 at 20 percent (13 of 65). The penalty-kill is more troubling. Ranked No. 26, the Wings are killing penalties at a 76.4 percent efficiency (41 of 54).

Williams had been playing the point on the second power-play unit. Defenseman Brad Stuart will get time in Williams’ absence.

“I think you’ll see Stuart in on that situation more,” Babcock said. “Stuey can really shoot the puck and so we’ll probably put him there. We’ve done it in the past when we had injuries or when we’re in a situation when we’re ahead in a game and didn’t want to have a forward on the back.”

Besides the swinging on the power-play, younger players will be expected to play a bigger role as well, namely Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader. But that also means a guy like Patrick Eaves, the free agent pick-up from last summer, will be counted on to contribute more, too.

“We’re going to have to do a better job without the puck,” Babcock said. “That means better goaltending, better defensively, better on the penalty kill, better all over, because you’re not going to generate as much offense. That’s just the facts.”

Through the first 15 games last season, the Wings already had a 10-2-3 record for 23 points, and had scored seven more goals (57) than what they allowed (50). This season, the Wings have struggled to this point, scoring 14 fewer goals.

For some of the players, the rash of injuries has stunned the Wings’ locker room. But they also know that this isn’t the time to hang their heads.

“We get hit with one guy and a few days later we get hit with another one,” Lidstrom said. “It’s the way it goes sometimes. It’s a long year and you’re going to have your bumps and bruises. Right now we’re getting them in a bunch.

“I’ve seen something similar when guys get hurt. Go back to ’08 when we had four regular defensemen out at the same time. So we’ve been hit before too; maybe not the major injuries – legs being broken or MCLs snapping; nothing like that.”

With the Olympic break working its way into the NHL schedule in early February, it could be a huge benefit for the Wings.

“Some of the guys will go to the Olympics, but other guys will get a rest,” Lidstrom said. “I think you’ll see both ends to that where players will go and play in the tournament, and I think it helps that the Olympics are here in North America instead of traveling overseas.”

HOF EXCITEMENT: Babcock and Lidstrom will be among a small Red Wings’ contingent will be on hand for Steve Yzerman’s induction in to the Hockey Hall of Fame this evening in Toronto. 

“I’ve never been before and I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” Lidstrom said. “I’m looking forward to just seeing everything and hearing the speeches and seeing some of the former players that will be there as well. We saw a few of them on the ice Saturday night, so I’m hoping for a chance to talk to some of them tonight.”

The Wings got to share in some of the induction weekend events, including the pre-game ceremony and introductions at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Yzerman was part of a ceremonial puck-drop between Lidstrom and Maple Leafs center John Mitchell.

“When you were standing on the ice, it almost gave you chills when they were announcing player after player,” Lidstrom said. “Some of them are a bit older that you never had a chance to see play, but others you’ve watched and seen play while you were growing up. It was great to see the former players on the ice.”

For Babcock, the pre-game ovation that Yzerman received from the Maple Leafs’ fans was something special.

“Obviously, this is very well-deserved and he’s been a great, great pro and very classy,” Babcock said. “If you’re Canadian, he’s been a great Canadian and if you’re from Detroit he’s been great for this city. I think his points speak for itself, but his determination as a leader in the end, doing all the winning that he’s done, speaks volumes.”

Before Saturday’s game, Pavel Datsyuk sought out his former linemate, Brett Hull, who like Yzerman will be enshrined this evening.

“First of all, I’m happy that I know him, and second, I’m happy that I played with him,” Datsyuk said. “He gave me lots of experience. I’m very happy for him. It’s something that he deserves. He’s one of the best in scoring.”

NOTEBOOK: Babcock said that Jimmy Howard will start against the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Wednesday. … Defenseman Brett Lebda did not practice on Monday. “Today he came in with a fever,” Babcock said, “so obviously we’re real precautious and we’ll look after that.”

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