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Puck-possession is key for Wings

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Mikael Samuelsson wll be back in the Red Wings' lineup Sunday for the first time since being sidelined with a groin injury last month. (Photo by Getty Images)

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Red Wings have always been a strong puck-possession team. But coach Mike Babcock is disturbed by a recent growing trend, which he hopes to stop tonight when his team plays the Minnesota Wild at Exel Energy Center.

The Wings’ coach was particularly alarmed by two neutral zone gifts on Friday night that allowed Anaheim to cruise to a 5-2 win at Joe Louis Arena.

“Our inability to make good decisions with the puck twice cost us two goals,” Babcock said. “We were set-up pretty good going into the third period. We had battled hard. We had put ourselves in a good situation, so it’s easy when you’re not winning to pick the couple of spots.”

Babcock addressed the team during a Sunday morning meeting where he reiterated his concerns. He wants the defensive pairings to do a better job of protecting the puck against the Wild, which is why he plans to swap defenseman Jakub Kindl, who had played the previous five games, with Kent Huskins.

While Kindl has been in the lineup, Huskins has sat, though he has played in seven games since signing a one-year free agent contract with the Wings on Jan. 22. Now Huskins gets another opportunity.

“Guys who've been in there have been doing a great job,” he said. “Now it's my job to get back in and contribute.”

Babcock likes that Huskins can eat up minutes on the penalty kill, while also providing occasional breathers for Niklas Kronwall, whose averaging more than 24-minutes of ice-time per game.

“I know what he’s going to do,” Babcock said, referring to Huskins. “Kuba moves the puck real good, and yet involved in too many plays going in the wrong direction. … Huskins doesn’t move the puck the same, but I know what he’s going to do. … So that’s the balance there.”

Last season, Detroit averaged a little more than seven giveaways per game. However, those numbers are slightly up this season, as the Red Wings have 107 giveaways in 14 games.

For Huskins, he said he has to keep it simple and be more responsible with the puck.

“Sometimes you try to make a play and it doesn't work out,” he said. “You can't play safe the whole game or you're not going to be scoring goals. It's more about finding a balance, making a quick play when it's there.”

A few questions remain for the Wings who may be juggling their top two forward lines and power-play unit at game-time. That’s because the status of center Pavel Datsyuk (shoulder) remains unclear. Following Sunday’s optional morning skate, Datsyuk said he plans to skate in pregame warm-ups later, and only then will a decision be made about the game.

“I felt better,” Datsyuk said, “better every day.''

Detroit will have Mikael Samuelsson back in the lineup. The veteran forward, who has missed the last dozen games with a groin injury, can provide some fire-power from the point in the second power-play unit with youngsters Joakim Andersson and Tomas Tatar. But Samuelsson needs to make an immediate impact for a team that leads the league with 101-man games missed, Babcock said.

“He has to be ready to play right now,” Babcock said. “You can’t work your way into the lineup for two games. You have to be ready to go tonight.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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