DETROIT - Thomas Vanek returns tonight against the Calgary Flames but doesn't expect to be the savior.
"It's never fun to be injured, never fun to watch," Vanek said after Sunday's morning skate. "Obviously it's especially harder when the team is losing to watch. When you're not playing games and the team is going good, it's a lot easier. I'm looking forward to being back and hopefully start contributing again."
Despite missing the last 11 games with a hip injury, Vanek is tied for second on the Red Wings in scoring with eight points.
When Vanek was in the lineup for the first seven games, the Wings scored 24 goals. In the 11 games since, the team has scored just 18 goals and has been shut out three times.
"I'm not here to save anything," Vanek said. "Before when I first got here I felt like I could still play in this league and make my teammates better. That's what good players can do and I feel like I'm still a good player. I'm not here to go out there and score three goals and try to be some kind of hero. Whoever I play with tonight, I'll try to make those two better. And If they make me better, hopefully we have success as a line."
Wings coach Jeff Blashill agreed that snapping the three-game losing streak will require more than just Vanek's return.
"He's a talented player but we've got other talented players on our team that I think can step up and make plays at critical moments," Blashill said. "If you think, the last two games they both came down to late goals at the end of the games where the other team made a play. We need to make those plays and we got guys throughout our lineup that can do it, we need to do it."
Vanek started the season with Darren Helm and Gustav Nyquist but Helm is currently on long-term injured reserve with a dislocated shoulder.
Nyquist believes Vanek can help.
"For sure offensively," Nyquist said. "We haven't scored enough goals lately. (Friday) night, against Washington, Howie (Jimmy Howard) plays great and we gotta help him out by scoring at least a couple goals. So we get a lot of power-play opportunities where Vanek will help on the power play. He was great for us at the beginning and hopefully he can come back and find his game right away."
Vanek skated with Frans Nielsen and Dylan Larkin in the morning skate. "You got Nielsen who works hard and he's good defensively and can contribute offensively," Larkin said. "Vanner's a puck possession guy and can find both of us and I can use my speed and create space for those guys and able to move with the puck."
Vanek has played on a line before with Nielsen with both were with the New York Islanders.
"I know his game pretty well," Vanek said. "Larks brings a lot of speed to the line. Hopefully we can find some chemistry early. Between Fransie and I we have a little bit of it and maybe somehow the two of us have to find it with Larks and use his speed for our advantage."
Vanek said he didn't think the Wings have been significantly outplayed.
"But what it is right now is too many guys are lacking a little confidence," Vanek said. "This is a game about confidence. If you feel good about yourself you're going to create more and score more goals. Right now I think that's what we have to do, is create a little bit more, get some dirty goals. Then some guys will feel better about themselves and off we go."
Activating Vanek puts the Wings' roster at 23 so they do not have to make any moves before the game.
LINE CHANGES: Blashill reunited captain Henrik Zetterberg with Nyquist and put Anthony Mantha with them.
Riley Sheahan centered Tomas Tatar and Justin Abdelkader while Steve Ott was with Luke Glendening and Drew Miller.
"I just want to see Mantha with the big body with Z and Nyquist," Blashill said. "Z and Nyquist have been real good together over the course of their time. Tatar has produced at a high rate with Sheahan, the most with Sheahan as a centerman than any other in terms of points per minute than anybody else that he's played with, including Pav, so I'm hoping that can give us a good look. I thought Glendening was excellent on the wing, playing with Nielsen, so we'll have to monitor that and if we're not getting enough forecheck pressure, enough won battles, then we'll put him back up there. We'll see. But I also think that can be a real good line."
Nyquist has played a little with Zetterberg this season but used to be a regular on his line.
"I played lots with Z over the years, maybe not so much last season but we know each other pretty well," Nyquist said. "Having Mantha there, he's a big body. He's going to provide a net presence for us and makes plays. It will be a fun line to test out."
HOWARD BACK IN: Howard will be making his sixth start in the last seven games.
Howard is sixth in the league with a 1.71 goals-against average and tied for sixth with a .945 save percentage.
Howard is not concerned about the Wings' scoring woes.
"It happens over the course of the year," Howard said. "It's important for me just to keep going and making saves for the guys."
FLAMES IN TOWN: The Calgary Flames are in town for their only visit of the season.
"They're real good on the forecheck so they're going to come hard with their forecheck for sure," Blashill said. "I think once they're on the forecheck, they have a D corps that can be active in the O-zone, certainly they have in the past presented that challenge to us. I think they're like every other team in the NHL, they're a real good team that's a couple plays away from having a way better record. That's just the reality of the league. I think it's been well-documented that their D corps is a real strong D corps. Now we have to make sure that we're committed to getting pucks behind them, we can't let their D corps be the difference in terms of skating up the ice. We got to make them turn and play 200 feet every shift."
Although Calgary's second-leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau is out with a broken finger, the Flames still have Michael Frolik (12 points), Sam Bennett (9 points), Sean Monahan (8 points) and Troy Brouwer (8 points).
"They're young and their speed," Howard said. "They got guys up front that can really go. I think right now we just got to worry about ourselves and get our game going within our room."
One area where the Flames have really struggled is their power play, ranked last in the league at 9 percent. The Flames are 0-for-8 with the man-advantage in the last two games and 2-for-32 in the last 11.