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Tightening defense is Wings' priority

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

One way for the Red Wings to improve defensively is to get Jimmy Howard and Henrik Zetterberg back into the lineup. Howard confirmed Thursday that he will start against Washington Friday, however, Zetterberg's status for the game won't be known before game day. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – It was back to the defensive basics Thursday morning at Joe Louis Arena for the Red Wings as they prepare for a home and home series with the Washington Capitals this weekend.

The Wings, who are currently on the outside looking in on the Eastern Conference playoff picture, have allowed at least four goals in four of the last five games.

“We haven’t been as good with the details of our game the last two games; that’s the reason we’re letting goals in,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “If we stay within the structure and just stick to the details we’re fine. I think we’ve shown that ever since the Winter Classic. Last two games we’ve gotten away from it.”

When surrendering four or more goals, the Red Wings have a 2-13-3 record this season. Last year, Detroit was 0-10-0 when it allowed four or more goals in a game.

Typically a very good puck-possession team, the Red Wings are hurting themselves recently by not protecting the puck, particularly in the neutral zone. Third-period turnovers against Florida led to the Red Wings’ destruction on Sunday, and turnovers proved costly again in a 5-0 loss at Philadelphia Tuesday.

With two games on deck against the league’s top power-play unit, the Red Wings’ defense has to tighten up quickly before the game’s best 1-2 power-play punch – Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom – come calling.

Ovechkin leads the league in goals (38), power-play goals (14) and shots on goal (273). And the Red Wings are well aware that Ovechkin’s produced four goals and seven points in his past three games.

“You got to play a little differently,” defenseman Kyle Quincey said. “A lot of times you want to take away the pass and let the goalie do his job but he can beat our goalies from pretty far out, so we got to be tighter on him and almost make him pass. He’s a guy you almost try to get him to pass the puck instead of shooting it because he can score from the tops of the circles.”

There are five games remaining before the league will shutdown for two weeks during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The Red Wings know the urgency in picking up points before everyone heads off in different directions after next weekend.

“We know every night we’re tested,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Washington has a lot of guys that can hurt you on one shift. We’re going to have to be real good. Their power play is good. We have to pay attention to detail in that area.

“The biggest thing is we have to look after our part. As much as it is about the opposition it’s way more about yourself and how you play. We’re very capable of doing what we think is a game plan, does that guarantee success? No, but it sure gives us a chance.”

The good thing for the Red Wings is that goalie Jimmy Howard confirmed that he will return to action Friday after missing the last four games with a left knee sprain.

Babcock also indicated that he thought captain Henrik Zetterberg would return to the lineup Friday to face the Capitals, though center Pavel Datsyuk remains out with no sure timetable for his return.

Zetterberg skated for the second time since last Friday when he suffered a lower back injury, which he categorized as, “A little different, but it’s in the area,” as the previous back pain, which forced him to miss 11 games last month.

“We just have to see,” said Zetterberg, who has a club-best 44 points in 40 games. “We’ve done everything we could so it doesn’t get worse and now just hopefully stay on this path and it keeps getting better.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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