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Notes: Wings looking to continue improved starts

Team faces tough stretch on road against league's top three teams: Washington, Columbus and Minnesota

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

TAYLOR, MICH. - The Red Wings have had trouble with slow starts this season but have improved in that area of late.

In two of the last three games, they have scored the first goal.

"I think we just been keeping a lot simple from the start," captain Henrik Zetterberg said after the team's practice at the Taylor Sportsplex Wednesday. "Our D is going down, getting the puck fast and trying to get the puck out of our zone as fast as possible. It makes it a lot easier to play in their end. I thought we've been executing our passes a lot better from beginning and that translates to also spending more time in there."

It also translates to being able to dictate the tempo rather than having to fight to get back in it.

"When your starts are better it gives you a chance to be on your toes a little bit more," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "We're learning as a team how (to play) for this team to be successful. And that is we have to make sure we get the puck out of our end and get the puck into their end. We have to control both blue lines for this team to be successful."

It also helps when special teams contribute as they did Tuesday night when they scored the game-tying power play goal with the two-man advantage.

"It needs to continue," Mike Green said. "The power play's one of those things where if you can contribute at least one a night, you're giving yourselves a good chance to win. Sometimes that's the difference. Last night if we get (another) one there on the PP, it's a different game. Like I said, we need to continue to get better, we need to continue to execute and that'll set ourselves up."

TOUGH TRIP: The Wings play three challenging road games in the next four days, Thursday at Washington, Saturday at Columbus and Sunday at Minnesota.

"Personally I think it's fun going in and seeing those good teams," Frans Nielsen said. "It's a challenge. I know we're all real happy. We're all here for a reason and it's because we like to get challenged. It's going to be fun going in and playing those kind of teams on the road. I always enjoy it. It's always a good time."

Those are the top three teams in the league.

The Capitals are first with 80 points in 54 games, the Wild are second with 75 points in 52 games and the Blue Jackets are third with 73 points in 52 games.

The Capitals have a plus-66 goal differential.

"I think they got a complete game, to be honest with you," Blashill said. "The strength of their team is they can create offense without giving a whole bunch up. Last time we were in there, I thought it was a real tight game. Every time that we've played them it's been fairly tight. Obviously they're on a big-time roll. Their power play is obviously real strong so you want to stay out of the box and you just got to play the hockey similar to what we played last night, where you're transporting the puck from one end to their end and play as much time in the O zone as we can."

The Capitals have won four in a row and are 22-5-1 at home.

Alex Ovechkin is tied for third in the league in goals with Columbus' Cam Atkinson with 26, with 11 coming on the power play.

When Ovechkin sets up in the left circle, he's hard to stop.

"If you can block it," Green said. "You want to but he's actually pretty accurate with his shot so sometimes it makes it tough."

Green, who spent the first 10 years of his career with the Capitals, enjoys going back. "It brings back some memories for sure, especially when we get off the plane and head to the rink, driving through the city," Green said. "It's been fun going back there. Obviously, it'd be a lot more fun if we get a win."

KRONWALL, NIELSEN UPDATES: Nielsen and Niklas Kronwall both skated with the team in Wednesday's practice wearing gray non-contact jerseys.

Nielsen and Kronwall have both missed the last two games with a shoulder and lower-body injury, respectively.

Nielsen left after the second period against the New York Islanders Friday night.

"I got a little accident on my body," Nielsen said. "It wasn't good enough. Doctors wouldn't let me keep going. It's feeling pretty good now. I want to keep my conditioning and my legs going. Hopefully I'll be back soon."

Blashill indicated there's a possibility Kronwall could play this weekend.

"Hopefully I'll get a good morning skate tomorrow and skate a little bit extra before practice on Friday and we'll go from there," Kronwall said.

Kronwall said he's been skating a little bit on his own.

The Wings practice Friday in Columbus so Kronwall's availability for Saturday could rest on how that goes.

"That kind of depends how it goes day-by-day, but it's starting to feel pretty good," Kronwall said.

Nielsen hopes to be back within a week at the latest.

"I can skate at least to keep in shape and hopefully it'll heal good enough that at some point on this road trip I can come back," Nielsen said. "I'm not sure."

HOWARD STARTS AGAIN IN GR: Jimmy Howard will make his second start for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins at Van Andel Arena against the Manitoba Moose tonight.

Howard, who started this past Saturday against the Milwaukee Admirals, is working his way back from a knee injury he suffered Dec. 20 in Tampa Bay.

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