DETROIT – A pair of Red Wings are positive that they’ll be in the lineup when the Red Wings travel to South Florida to take on the Panthers at BB&T Center in Sunrise on Saturday night.
Both Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader indicated Friday morning that they will play in the Red Wings’ next game, though coach Mike Babcock took more of a cautious approach.
“I’m not 100 percent sure on anything,” Babcock said.
When told that Zetterberg announced his return after missing 11 games with a herniated disc, Babcock said, “OK. Abdelkader’s another guy too that I think might be available. We’ll know more after the morning skate.”
Aside from the coach’s uncertainty about the roster, Zetterberg and Abdelkader worked together with Daniel Alfredsson on the team’s second forward line during Friday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s going to be a big lift having him back,” Abdelkader said of Zetterberg. “Obviously, having your captain back, your leader, who just brings so much on and off the ice that he’s kind of irreplaceable, so we’re really looking forward to getting him back and it’s going to be a big, big lift.”
Despite missing the last 11 games, Zetterberg still leads the Red Wings – who were 3-6-2 during the captain’s absence – in points (30), plus-minus rating (+12) and shots on goal (99).
“It’s been a long time. How many games has he missed? Lots. I just know we need him back,” Babcock said. “I just know we have 19 games to the Olympic break and we need some traction. We need traction in our work ethic, in our in our preparation, in our consistency, in our specialty teams, in our injury situation, we just flat out need traction.”
In order to make room for Zetterberg, the Red Wings re-assigned rookie center Riley Sheahan to the club's minor-league affiliate in Grand Rapids.
Zetterberg should provide the Wings with some sustenance, though he’s wary of a quick return to his early-season form.
“I haven’t done much lately,” he said. “It’s only one goal on this team and that’s playing in the middle June and raise that Cup. Whatever you do until that is … as long as you get into the postseason and we’re healthy and we play good – that’s our goal.”
Abdelkader returns for the first time since suffering a concussion against Pittsburgh on Dec. 14. He’s produced three goals and 13 points in 34 games this season.
“It’s already been two weeks already but I’m looking forward to getting back and I feel ready to go,” Abdelkader said. “Hopefully I can help the team.”
The Red Wings can certainly use the help as many of their previously injured players are now returning to the lineup. Forward Gustav Nyquist and defenseman Danny DeKeyser returned last week, and with Zetterberg and Abdelkader set to return the Wings are down to five players – Darren Helm (shoulder), Johan Franzen (concussion), Jimmy Howard (MCL), Jonathan Ericsson (ribs) and Stephen Weiss (sports hernia) – still out.
As for Howard, he’s shooting for his return on Monday in Nashville.
“That’s been the goal here all along and I don’t think anything’s changed,” Howard said. “The first real test was today with a full practice and it felt pretty good out there. I think I need a couple more practices.
“It’s still a little stiff for not using it for so long. That’s going to happen with any injury. I just need to get the mobility back.”
As of Friday morning, Babcock hadn’t made a decision on the starting goalie against the Panthers. Jonas Gustavsson is still nursing a tender groin so third-string goalie Petr Mrazek did make the trip to South Florida.
“I haven’t talked to anybody,” Babcock said. “We’ll get on the plane and figure it out.”
Center - DET
Goals: 9 | Assists: 13 | Pts: 22
Shots: 78 | +/-: 7
It’s been 12 days since Franzen suffered a concussion following a hit to the head in a game against Tampa Bay on Dec. 15. Even with the three-day Christmas break and no skating, Franzen is still experiencing side-effects of the hit.
“I still get dizzy and headaches,” he said. “It’s motion triggered. I can get through workouts fine, but if I try and play keep away I can’t do that. If there’s too much going on I get dizzy, my vision gets blurry and stuff like that.”
Because of the lingering symptoms, Franzen has sought the advice of the same Ann Arbor-based neurologist who treated Patrick Eaves two years ago.
“I just pretty much talked to him and went through my history,” Franzen said. “I don’t know if I’m going to see him again or if I need more testing. It depends how long it’s going to linger.
“You still have to try and see where you are every day. You have to get at it again.”
Center - DET
Goals: 7 | Assists: 3 | Pts: 10
Shots: 25 | +/-: 4
Still in a degree of pain and discomfort, Helm said he’ll talk to the trainers and coaches following Saturday’s morning skate to see if he’ll play against the Panthers.
“I just want to play. It’s painful. I just need to get out of this bad luck of injuries and get 'er going,” said Helm, who has seven goals and 10 points in 15 games. “I’m skating, I’m shooting, doing a lot of good things. There’s a couple things I don’t know if I can handle, the hard physical grind of an NHL game.”
Asked if he'd be in the lineup Saturday, Helm said, “I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll talk it over. It’s close, right around the corner, it’s coming. I thought it would be here by now. Just keep working hard and getting stronger. It will be ready when it is.”
Defense - DET
Goals: 1 | Assists: 7 | Pts: 8
Shots: 38 | +/-: 9
Suffering his second major injury of the season on Monday didn’t stop Ericsson from making light of his situation Friday.
“The ribs hurt but that was not the main thing,” said Ericsson, who spent Monday night in the hospital. “I didn’t think it was the ribs. I was worried it was something like an abdominal tear or something like that. … I’m still ways ahead of Helmer.”
Ericsson was injured in the second period of Monday’s 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders. The 6-foot-4 defenseman knew immediately that something was wrong.
“Something happened on the first (shift) behind our own net,” he said. “I got off balance a little bit and trying to save my fall, stayed up trying to grab hold of the boards and I felt something was definitely wrong with the ribs right away. I went over to the bench and it kind of felt OK. So I went out the next shift, pinched down, and hit, I think it was (Matt) Martin, with the same side that was hurting and it was over by then. That kind of pushed it over the top.”
Ericsson missed 10 games earlier this season with a separated left shoulder. Now he has two fractured ribs that will keep him out of the lineup for another 3-5 weeks, and have him miss next Wednesday’s Winter Classic.
“I really wanted to play in the Winter Classic,” he said. “It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to do that right now. That’s where it's at. Evelina’s family is here. My family, my dad’s here. I’ve got some friends coming tomorrow.
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