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Vets need to step it up down the stretch

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told reporters Friday that he wants veterans like David Legwand and Daniel Alfredsson to play with more urgency as the team fights for its playoff lives. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – With nine games left it’s do or die time for the Red Wings.

While injuries are an easy scapegoat for the dire situation the Wings find themselves, the youngsters from Grand Rapids have certainly done their share in keeping the club above water as they try to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 23rd straight season.

But now coach Mike Babcock wants to see more urgency and production from the older guys on the team.

Detroit has surrendered two-goal leads in the first period of the last two games. Both games resulted in losses – 3-2 at Columbus, and a 5-4 defeat to the Montreal Canadiens Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.

And Babcock points a finger at the veterans, while sharing some of the blame.

“Our starts have been fantastic basically all year, mostly here we’ve been really, really good,” Babcock said. “We weren’t as good, two games ago we took some penalties but I thought we played alright. I thought last game we couldn’t skate so is that because I didn’t practice them the day before? I gave them an optional. I don’t know the answer to that I just know it’s unacceptable to start like that.

“It’s a game we’re playing. We have to find a way to win games. Our guys understand that, they’re big boys, it’s right on the board there we talk about it every day, they’re fine.”

Veterans David Legwand, Daniel Alfredsson and Johan Franzen have struggled lately. Despite having the most NHL experience of any of the Wings’ forwards, the trio has been a combined minus-14 in the past three games, including a minus-7 against the Canadiens.

“Well they weren’t good,” Babcock said referring to the team’s veterans. “You just gotta play better, that’s all there is to it.”

Babcock plans to stick with the lines that he finished with Thursday, swapping centers Legwand and Darren Helm when the Wings face the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.

At Friday’s practice, Babcock demoted Legwand to the third line with Joakim Andersson and Alfredsson, while Helm was promoted to the top line, centering forwards Gustav Nyquist and Franzen.

Since coming over from Nashville at the NHL’s trade deadline, Legwand has undergone a bit of a learning curve, producing two goals, seven points and a minus-8 rating in 12 games.

“I talked to the coaches this morning and figured it out,” Legwand said. “They have a very open door policy and if you have questions you can go in there and ask. He’s going to tell you things he thinks too. It’s a good open door policy.”

Legwand said he needs to concentrate on being more responsible at the Wings’ end of the ice.

“The defensive zone is a little different for me, being a man-on-man system. Those types of things are a little different for me right now,” he said. “It’s a different system and a different group of players. It’s getting used to a few different things and things I have to adjust to, but you have to be a professional about it and do it the right way. It’s crunch time, there are nine games left and every point matters.”

Pavel Datsyuk
Center  - DET
Goals: 15 | Assists: 18 | Pts: 33
Shots: 113 | +/-: -2
DATSYUK SKATES AGAIN: For the first time in more than three weeks, Pavel Datsyuk participated in a Red Wings’ practice, taking part in many of the team’s drills.

While Babcock was glad to welcome the superstar back to the team’s daily routine, the coach remains unaware of a hard timetable for Datsyuk's return to the lineup.

“Well it’s nice to have him out there,” Babcock said. “I don’t know when he’s playing or I don’t know anything about it.”

Datsyuk skated on his own Monday and Tuesday, and skated with a handful of teammates at  Wednesday's optional.

TORONTO TEST: The Maple Leafs, losers of six straight games, return home to host the Red Wings Saturday night after playing in Philadelphia tonight.

Regardless of their recent implosion, Babcock is preparing for a desperate Leafs’ team, who are 1-4-0 on home ice this month, and fight to stay in the playoff hunt.

“I don’t know how they could be any more hungry than we are, that to me is an impossibility,” Babcock said. “You have two teams that are dying to get in the playoffs, I would think it’d be a heck of a game and a real battle and that’s what you want. We have to work hard and we have to play with good detail and we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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