Notebook: 'Answer the bell' a priority
Howard gets start vs. Nashville in Saturday's matinee
The Wings are 1-4-0 against the Predators this season and have dropped four in a row to them. They are also a Central Division rival that is only four points in rearview mirror in the playoff race. If that isn’t enough – if the playoffs started today – you guessed it; Detroit would be playing Nashville in the opening round.
“We’re trying to have a more sound game heading into the playoffs,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Of course when you’ve lost to an opponent four straight times you want to beat them and play well against them. We know the details of our game have to improve and have to be better for us to have any success in the playoffs.”
The last game against Nashville was a very physical contest, and the Wings expect the same thing Saturday.
“You have to answer the bell, it’s a physical game and we can be physical too,” Lidstrom said. “We have some big guys and we have to play that same kind of game. You have to hang on to the puck to make plays and take a hit to make the play. You have to do that.”
With the recent struggles, the Lidstrom said the team will make the proper adjustments.
“We all have to improve as a team heading into the playoffs,” he said. “We have to play a whole lot better than we have the last couple of games. We have five games to correct that, especially our defensive zone play. We need to play a lot better in our own zone and take care of the puck.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock knows that his team will be under the microscope.
“I thought we had a real good game in there last time and they came out on top,” he said. “They waved off our one power play goal, so that was the difference in that game, but it should be a lot of fun. It’s a good atmosphere in there, the teams are close in the standings and it’s important we rebound from what happened here the other night. It should be a good game.”
The team went through a rigorous skate Thursday, but at today’s practice they looked relaxed and comfortable and went through some one-on-one battle drills, a part of the game that seemed to be lacking in the game against St. Louis.
“Yesterday we just worked and that was just about getting it back in gear,” Babcock said. “Now mentally have we made a decision that we’re going after it? I believe that we probably have. The reality is that any time you face adversity you face in your life you want to respond to it and I think we’ve had enough. It appears like we’re starting to get healthy and I think that’s a real plus to us, but the reality is we have five games left and it’s real important we take a step in the right direction.”
One line that has been impressive recently is the line of Mike Modano, Tomas Holmstrom and Valtteri Filppula.
Modano, who missed 41 games due to a nasty wrist injury, says the chemistry is there for the line that has combined for nine points in the last five games.
“It’s a start, it’s slowly kind of been building, those are good signs day-to-day,” the veteran center said. “Fil’s a great skated and Tommy is obviously great in front of the net and does a lot of things well. So far some good things have been happening.”
If Detroit earns a point at Nashville on Saturday or Dallas fails to earn a point at Los Angeles the Wings will clinch their 20th consecutive playoff spot.
HOWARD RETURNS: Arguably the most important piece to a team heading into the playoffs is having their starting goalie primed and ready to go. The Wings will have Jimmy Howard, their starting netminder, back between the pipes Saturday in Nashville.
Howard has been out since March 26, when Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul landed on his shoulder. The Wings exhaled a sigh of relief that the injury wasn’t more serious and that Howard was listed as day-to-day with the injury. He seemed more worried about extra-curricular activities than his day job after practice.
“Well you know, I’m really worried about golf season. I don’t know if I really want to fully commit to my swing,” Howard said with a grin.
Howard’s teammate and fellow goalie Chris Osgood could already see where this was going.
“Oh boy, he’s already coming up with excuses for his golf game,” Osgood bemoaned in the background.
“No I’m just joking, the shoulder feels good,” Howard said. “All the stiffness and the swelling has pretty much all gone down. … I’m looking forward to getting back out on the ice and it’s going to be another test.”
With only five regular-season games left, will that be enough work for Howard, who’s tied for third in NHL wins, to find a comfort zone before playoffs?
“Yeah, I feel good already,” he said. “We’ve played a lot of games so far, I just have to continue to get out there and give the guys a chance to win.”
DATSYUK UPDATE: Friday’s practice had full player participation, but the team will still be without star center Pavel Datsyuk, who said he is “progressing”.
“He’s not playing tomorrow, that’s all I know, I don’t know about Sunday,” Babcock said.
Osgood also participated, but his status is still unknown.