DETROIT – Coach Mike Babcock was hoping to use one of the last three preseason games, starting tonight against Pittsburgh, to tune-up the Red Wings’ regular-season lineup.
His plan will have to wait until the weekend when, hopefully, a few more healthy bodies can return to action.
“Every year I have this fantasy that this game and the game a game ago and the game on Friday night (were) supposed to be a full roster,” Babcock said, following the team’s Wednesday morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. “Obviously that can't happen, plus we can't play guys three games in four nights. That doesn't make a lot of sense unless you're a kid. So we'll have to figure out a way to get a lot of Grand Rapids guys back for a couple of days.”
The Wings are dealing with a few minor injuries to Daniel Alfredsson (groin), Jakub Kindl (hip flexor), Jonathan Ericsson (thigh contusion) and Jordin Tootoo (bruised shoulder). All are listed as day to day with Daren Helm (lower back, groin), Patrick Eaves (MCL, ankle) and Jonas Gustavsson (groin) expected to be sidelined longer.
Captain Henrik Zetterberg, center Pavel Datsyuk and defenseman Niklas Kronwall will also sit out tonight’s game. All three are expected to play in their final preseason game this Friday when the Wings host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Detroit will finish the exhibition season on Saturday night with a game at Toronto.
Babcock said he'll play Stephen Weiss with Johan Franzen and Justin Abdelkader. The Wings have called up Riley Sheahan, who will center a line with Daniel Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi. They’ve also recalled young defenseman Xavier Ouellet, who’ll be paired with Danny DeKeyser. The other defensive pairings will be Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith and Adam Almquist with Brian Lashoff.
Ericsson, who did not skate on Wednesday, is the latest Wings’ casualty, though he laughed at Babcock's thigh contusion assessment and said, “It's nothing serious, nothing to worry about. Unless something changes I should definitely be back Friday.”
While Babcock would rather see his regular lineup face-off against the Penguins, he’s content with observing what the younger players can do with their opportunities tonight.
“We got to make decisions. We got three games left,” he said. “Let's compete, let's do what we're supposed to do. Focus on our details and continue to get better as a team. We haven't scored any goals with the exception of one game. We don't shoot the puck, we're averaging 23 shots a game. We got to shoot the puck, we got to get to the net.”
HELM UPDATE: For the first time in recent memory, Helm participated on team drills on the ice. The Wings’ third-line center missed all but one game last season with an inflamed disc in his lower back. He then sustained a groin injury on Sept. 6.
“Still working on the groin. I still wasn’t going 100 percent out there,” Helm said. “I was going pretty good, but it’s something that I still need to monitor, keep an eye on and just keep rehabbing and getting better.”
As for his lower back, Helm said, “I haven’t really pushed it that hard. I felt pretty good in the skate today and the last few skates, the groin feels pretty good so I’d say I’m quite a bit better than a few weeks ago.”
Here are the line combinations and defensive pairing that the Red Wings will roll with against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at Joe Louis Arena:
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