DETROIT – It has never been so sweet to see No. 13 again.
Pavel Datsyuk will return to Detroit’s lineup Tuesday – when the team takes on the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. – after missing seven games with a concussion. The Red Wings have lost two of their last three games without both Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg (lower back), and are looking forward to getting half of the Euro Twins back on the ice.
“It’s important to get him back losing the last two out of three or winning the last two out of three,” center Stephen Weiss said. “That’s a guy that you need in your lineup and you want in your lineup and he makes our team that much better, so we’re certainly excited to see him back today in practice with the line and having him back tomorrow.”
Datsyuk has 12 goals and 23 points in 24 games and still leads the league with 40 takeaways. Chicago’s Marian Hossa is second with 38.
“Pav’s a very special player,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “He’s highly respected in this room. He’s one of our leaders. To have him come back in it’ll give a boost to our lineup. Pav just makes everyone around him that much better. He’s one of those unique players that can do that, no matter who’s playing with him their play elevates.”
Although he feels slightly out of shape, Datsyuk said he’s ready to rejoin his teammates, and hopes he hasn’t skipped a beat once he steps on the ice.
“Can do lots of stuff in practice but in games it’s different level,” Datsyuk said. “We’ll see tomorrow.’’
The Red Wings were 5-2-0 with Datsyuk sidelined from an elbow he received from Ottawa’s Jared Cowen on Nov. 23. Fortunately, the Wings have gotten an offensive boost from players like Johan Franzen, Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, who took advantage of the additional ice time. And coach Mike Babcock doesn’t expect that production to change when No. 13 returns.
“For my two cents, I thought Franzen was a star when Pav was out,” Babcock said. “Leadership-wise, determination-wise, how he played, and so now that’s the benchmark. You don’t go back to the other guy you continue to be what you’ve been and he should be proud of how he played and we need him to keep playing like that.
“I think the same with Tatar and Nyquist, Tatar in particular. They’ve got more ice time they’ve taken a step and now continue to earn that ice time. That’s how you end up a better team, through guys getting opportunity and grabbing it and ideally in the end we will be.”
While they continue to struggle at home, the Red Wings have been almost unbeatable on the road in the last five weeks. Detroit is 6-1-1 away from Joe Louis Arena since Nov. 1, which gives the team confidence going into a two-game swing through the Sunshine State this week.
“Anytime you’ve been able to string something together like that, we feel comfortable going on the road, we seem to play a little bit more simple for whatever reason and we gotta try and do some of those same things at home but that’ll come,” Weiss said. “For whatever reason we’re clicking on the road and we just gotta make sure we keep that going.”
The Red Wings will try to do just that as they travel to Florida to face the Panthers three days after losing to them 2-1 in Detroit. With Zetterberg sidelined for at least another week, center Cory Emmerton will remain in the lineup, while veteran Mikael Samuelsson will be the extra forward on the trip.
“Well, we gotta skate a lot better,” Babcock said of the rematch with the Panthers. “I thought we had spacing problems, and what I mean by that is when your forwards are a long way away from your D there’s huge gaps and it’s easy to come through you. That’s two-fold, one we weren’t skating and one I thought we let ourself off the hook, you know three games in four nights and they didn’t play and we didn’t, forget all that that let’s just play.”
INJURY UPDATE: Darren Helm
Center - DET
Goals: 7 | Assists: 3 | Pts: 10
Shots: 25 | +/-: 4
left Detroit with the team on their two-game trip to Florida after suffering a shoulder injury in a 6-3 loss to Philadelphia last Wednesday. As his range of motion continues to improve, Helm anticipates that he’ll begin practicing again in Florida, but doesn’t expect to return to the lineup for at least one more week.
“I think there’s a chance I can make it out on the ice,” Helm said. “I’ll take that. The sun and heat are definitely a factor as well.
“I’m optimistic I won’t be out that long. I’ve made head way. The first couple of days were pretty bad. The last two have been pretty good. I’m hoping it continues in the same direction and I’ll get back sooner rather than later.”
In 15 games this season, the center has recorded seven goals and three assists. Helm has already missed three games with the shoulder injury.
HOWARD IN GOAL:
Goalie - DET
GAA: 2.70 | Sv%: .909
Howard will start between the pipes for the Red Wings on Tuesday night. The goaltender has a 6-8-6 record in 20 games this season, but has been replaced by backup Jonas Gustavsson
in six of Detroit’s last eight contests.
Gustavsson boasts an 8-1-1 record in nine starts this season, losing his first game in regulation Saturday against the Panthers.
“I was really surprised,” Howard said of not starting against Florida. “We’re all competitors in here, we all want to play, we all want to be out there. I understand his decision. I have to respect his decision, but at the same time I don’t have to like it. I just have to continue working hard and keep getting better every day.”
Center - DET
Goals: 2 | Assists: 2 | Pts: 4
Shots: 27 | +/-: -3
MIAMI HOMECOMING: Weiss will make his first trip back to Florida since signing with Detroit in July. Weiss played each of his previous NHL seasons with the Panthers, leaving as the team’s all-time leader in games played (654) and assists (249) through parts of 11 seasons.
The center doesn’t know what to expect when he returns to BB&T Center, but hopes to pay his former team back for taking two points out of The Joe Saturday.
“I was excited for the last game here, it didn’t go as we planned obviously but I’m looking forward to getting back and playing my first game there with an opposing team,” Weiss said. “It should be fun I’ve been looking forward to it for a while.”