For the second straight game, Cleary will be on Datsyuk’s line along with veteran winger Todd Bertuzzi, when the Red Wings host the Ottawa Senators for the second time this season at Joe Louis Arena.
The Sens handed the Red Wings a 6-1 defeat on Oct. 23.
Unfortunately, Cleary’s slump predates the Wings’ worst loss of the season. He’s been slumping for more than a month, something he says he’s not experienced in his nine seasons in Detroit. He has one goal and three points in 22 games, but he’s produced just one point in his last 16 games.
“Got to go out and do it.” Cleary said. “You just got to be good defensively, do the little things and we’ve always believed your game will come out of it.”
Cleary knows his confidence isn’t where it needs to be, saying Saturday morning that “It’s in the middle.”
By moving Cleary up from the third line, coach Mike Babcock sees an opportunity to help the veteran forward shake out of his offensive recession.
“The bottom line is confidence is a tough thing in the league,” Babcock said. “We’re hoping ideally that playing with Pav might help him. Pav’s a pretty good player and yet we need Pav to be going big-time for us to have success and helping him in some ways is probably more important than helping Cleary. That’s our though process right now. We’ll see what happens.”
In Thursday’s 4-3 victory over Carolina – in the first game that the Red Wings split up Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg – Datsyuk was on the ice for all three of the Hurricanes’ goals and finished with a minus-3 rating.
But the win snapped a seven-game winless streak for the Red Wings, who will host a team tonight that has dropped three straight in regulation.
“I read the other day that they’re the most desperate team in hockey that they needed a win so bad the other day,” Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. “I was like, ‘Wow! They have lots of wins.’ I though that was ours. But anytime you come here to play the Red Wings, no matter how good you’re playing or how bad you’re playing, or them, it’s always a fun night. I think we’re looking forward to the opportunity again. We had some success in here last year (2011-12), all that’s going to do is make them a little more prepared for the game and we have to make sure we’re ready to play.”
Being prepared to play along side Datsyuk is a big challenge for Cleary, but also gives him a golden opportunity to snap out of his slump.
“When you play with Pavel, you’re out there a lot more, you also have to get yourself open and be ready to shoot, be ready to go to the net, be ready for the unexpected,” Cleary said. “You have to stay positive, have to stay confident. That’s the only way to get through it.”
Neither forward is slated to play against Ottawa, it’s possible one or both could play tonight if necessary, though Babcock was non-committal.
LEHNER STARTS: Though starter Craig Anderson made 31 saves in a 6-1 win the last time the Senators came to Detroit, MacLean has decided to go with backup goalie Robin Lehner.
For the 22-year-old Swedish netminder, tonight will be his first time playing at Joe Louis Arena, but it’s not the first time he’s faced the Red Wings. He was pulled midway through the second period after allowing four goals on 19 shots in his first home start.
“(Johan) Franzen was on fire, I think he scored five goals,” Lehner said of the Wings’ 7-5 win on Feb. 2, 2011. “He scored two on me and then three more when I was pulled. Hopefully, he’s not on fire today.”
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