LOS ANGELES – The Red Wings knew Tuesday they were getting the Mule back for tonight’s game against the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
This morning, coach Mike Babcock received a double dose of good news when he learned that defensemen Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey were also available to play against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.
But with the good news comes another roster dilemma for the Red Wings.
With eight healthy defensemen – and Carlo Colaiacovo possibly ready to return Sunday – Babcock has a different problem. Who to play? With Smith and Quincey in the lineup, Babcock said that Ian White and Kent Huskins are healthy scratches for the first of back-to-back games in California.
The Wings play the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on Thursday night before returning home where they will host the Chicago Blackhawks in a Sunday matinee.
Babcock’s decision didn’t sit well with White, who missed five games earlier in the season with a leg injury.
“It's really frustrating,” said White, who has a goal and two points with a minus-2 rating. “I've played almost 500 games at this level and I've played the same way, so suddenly I guess it's not working.”
Babcock said he wishes he had the same predicament with the forwards as he now has with the blue-liners. The Wings are still without the services of forwards Darren Helm (back), Todd Bertuzzi (back), Mikael Samuelsson (fractured finger) and Valtteri Filppula (shoulder).
“We need way more options up front,” Babcock said. “We’d like to have them back, but the way I look at it is I didn’t plan on Fil coming out and Mule coming in. It would have been better, obviously, to have them both. But that’s part of it. The same for Mule. When you’ve missed time you got to come back and skate. You have to keep your shifts short. You always think you’re ready, but normally when you haven’t played a bunch game-shape is a different thing.”
Smith hasn’t played since Feb. 2 when he suffered a shoulder injury at Columbus. Quincey missed the last two games with a sprained ankle sustained last week against the Blue Jackets. Babcock wants to see both players play simple against the Kings.
“Don’t get overzealous. Don’t be trying to make up for your time away all in one game,” Babcock said. “You can recover from little mistakes. You can’t recover from big mistakes … Just let the game come to you.”
Smith has missed nearly a month and he said that stamina could be a concern for the first few games.
“Just be good defensively, make good, quick plays and don't try to do too much or you're get yourself in trouble, he said. “Short shifts, make the first pass you see. Don't try to make it too complicated because that's when you're going to get yourself in trouble.”
The Wings hope that they can build on their impressive back-to-back wins over Nashville and Vancouver last weekend. However, the Kings have won four in a row and six of seven entering tonight’s game. Los Angeles has given up seven goals in their six wins and even though they’re without key defensemen – Alec Martinez, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene – the Kings have been moving the puck better than they did in their first 10 games.
“They’ve got good depth, even without three of their big D they’re still rolling right along,” Babcock said. “Obviously they present a challenge for you and we’re looking forward to it. It should be a lot of fun.”
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