DETROIT – There are four healthy players currently on Red Wings’ roster, who weren’t with the team at the start of the season, which has Mike Babcock and his coaching staff plotting a different course lately.
“We try to simplify everything, but we’ve been doing that for a bit,” Babcock said. “We got our guys back, we got on a role, we were playing fast. Since that time we haven’t scored.”
Since the modest four-game winning streak ended earlier in the month, the Red Wings have produced just 11 goals in their last seven games – that’s a 1.57 goals per game average – which has resulted in them posting a 1-4-2 record and falling to fourth-place in the Atlantic Division.
Babcock knows a low-scoring offense won’t get it down against tonight’s opponent, the Anaheim Ducks, who are second in league scoring with a 111 goals in 35 games.
“We can’t race these guys to five today, we understand that totally,” Babcock said. “When you look the goals we gave up last game, we had (the puck) on our stick on both of them. Through D-zone execution we found a way to make one more pass so they could have it instead of just going off the glass so simplify your game.
“The other thing I’d say when you look at the scoring chances, both teams had 12 scoring chances in our mind. We felt we could have had more seconds and more thirds, we weren’t hard enough on the inside. When you have a pretty basic group you better get on the inside and you better play basic.”
Scoring has been difficult all season for the Red Wings, who have 89 goals in 36 games – 45 in the first 18 games, and 44 in the next 18 contests.
While injuries are greatly responsible for their offensive woes – the Red Wings have 116 man-games lost – they aren’t near the top of the dubious injury category in the league. Remarkably, that distinction belongs to the Ducks (180) followed by Pittsburgh (170), Carolina (167), Edmonton (166), Columbus (136), Tampa Bay (128), New Jersey (127) and Montreal (125).
Ever since Danny DeKeyser (shoulder) and Todd Bertuzzi (upper body) went down in the same game against Nashville last month there’s been a non-stop procession of guys seen by the team doctors and training staff. And since Saturday, three players – Justin Abdelkader and Johan Franzen with concussions and Gustav Nyquist with a sore groin – have been added to the M*A*S*H* unit.
Altogether, the seven skaters currently out of the lineup represent 42.7 percent of the Red Wings’ goal production this season, which means there’s plenty of opportunity for recently recalled players from Grand Rapids.
“It’s definitely a challenge but there’s different ways to look at it,” said Joakim Andersson, who will center the second line with Drew Miller and Tomas Tatar tonight. “Try to be more positive, we still got the same game plan, the same systems, just got to execute better and we have guys coming up who are hungry and want to play. We just hope they come in and play well. When guys are hurt, opportunity comes up for other people. Just got to step up.”
ROOKIE ANCHORS: Two rookies will be in the center hole tonight when the Red Wings entertain the Ducks at Joe Louis Arena. Luke Glendening and Riley Sheahan will center the third and fourth lines, respectively.
“Riley’s a real good centerman, a two-way player and good defensively, hard on the puck and can score,” Nyquist said. “Also has a great shot so hopefully he brings that out tonight and helps us win.”
For Sheahan, tonight’s game will be his third NHL game in three years. The 22-year-old University of Notre Dame alumnus is expected to skate on a line with Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson, who has been a healthy scratch for the last two games.
ANAHEIM BLUES: Before his arrival in Detroit, Babcock coached in the Anaheim organization for four seasons. So as rivals in the Western Conference, the Wings’ coach always welcomed the warm weather that only southern California can deliver.
So how does he feel now that the Wings are on the East and only get to travel to the West Coast once each season?
“If you look at the points in the West and the East we’re thankful right now we’re in the East,” Babcock said. “We like the weather out there. We like playing their team, but there’s lots of Original Six teams in the East and that’s a lot of fun too.”
Heading into tonight’s game, the Red Wings have 39 points, good for the No. 6 seed in the East, though there are nine teams in the West that have more points than Detroit.
COMERICA PRACTICE: The Red Wings will hold an hour-long practice at Comerica Park, which is free for fans to attend at noon on Wednesday.
“I’ll be there,” proclaimed Helm, who had a slight setback with his shoulder recovery. “I was dodging DeKeyser’s shots off the crossbar yesterday and I went down and it hurt a little bit. I was standing in the corner, he was just sipping them.”
Helm and the Red Wings conducted an outdoor practice two years ago at Clark Park on Detroit’s southwest side. There was an over-flow crowd that day, but the Red Wings don’t have any idea how to gauge attendance for Wednesday’s practice on the Hockeytown Winter Festival rink.
Concession stands will be open to the public, as will the box office and The D Shop. Fans can also expect great random giveaways for those who attend.
“I just like the air outside,” Helm said. “You just get so excited when you’re out there and you’re playing. You feel like a little kid. I know everybody says it, but it’s true and it’s hard not to think about it when you’re out there.
“I mean, that’s where I started in Winnipeg where there were lots of rinks around. There was one right down the street pretty much. I love it. It’s a different type of ice.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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