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Puck-possession is key for Wings

Forget the injuries, Babcock says team needs to protect the puck

Sunday, 02.17.2013 / 2:16 PM ET / News
By Bill Roose  - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com
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Puck-possession is key for Wings
Mikael Samuelsson wll be back in the Red Wings' lineup Sunday for the first time since being sidelined with a groin injury last month. (Photo by Getty Images)

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Red Wings have always been a strong puck-possession team. But coach Mike Babcock is disturbed by a recent growing trend, which he hopes to stop tonight when his team plays the Minnesota Wild at Exel Energy Center.

The Wings’ coach was particularly alarmed by two neutral zone gifts on Friday night that allowed Anaheim to cruise to a 5-2 win at Joe Louis Arena.

“Our inability to make good decisions with the puck twice cost us two goals,” Babcock said. “We were set-up pretty good going into the third period. We had battled hard. We had put ourselves in a good situation, so it’s easy when you’re not winning to pick the couple of spots.”

Babcock addressed the team during a Sunday morning meeting where he reiterated his concerns. He wants the defensive pairings to do a better job of protecting the puck against the Wild, which is why he plans to swap defenseman Jakub Kindl, who had played the previous five games, with Kent Huskins.

While Kindl has been in the lineup, Huskins has sat, though he has played in seven games since signing a one-year free agent contract with the Wings on Jan. 22. Now Huskins gets another opportunity.

“Guys who've been in there have been doing a great job,” he said. “Now it's my job to get back in and contribute.”

Babcock likes that Huskins can eat up minutes on the penalty kill, while also providing occasional breathers for Niklas Kronwall, whose averaging more than 24-minutes of ice-time per game.

“I know what he’s going to do,” Babcock said, referring to Huskins. “Kuba moves the puck real good, and yet involved in too many plays going in the wrong direction. … Huskins doesn’t move the puck the same, but I know what he’s going to do. … So that’s the balance there.”

Last season, Detroit averaged a little more than seven giveaways per game. However, those numbers are slightly up this season, as the Red Wings have 107 giveaways in 14 games.

For Huskins, he said he has to keep it simple and be more responsible with the puck.

“Sometimes you try to make a play and it doesn't work out,” he said. “You can't play safe the whole game or you're not going to be scoring goals. It's more about finding a balance, making a quick play when it's there.”

A few questions remain for the Wings who may be juggling their top two forward lines and power-play unit at game-time. That’s because the status of center Pavel Datsyuk (shoulder) remains unclear. Following Sunday’s optional morning skate, Datsyuk said he plans to skate in pregame warm-ups later, and only then will a decision be made about the game.

“I felt better,” Datsyuk said, “better every day.''

Detroit will have Mikael Samuelsson back in the lineup. The veteran forward, who has missed the last dozen games with a groin injury, can provide some fire-power from the point in the second power-play unit with youngsters Joakim Andersson and Tomas Tatar. But Samuelsson needs to make an immediate impact for a team that leads the league with 101-man games missed, Babcock said.

“He has to be ready to play right now,” Babcock said. “You can’t work your way into the lineup for two games. You have to be ready to go tonight.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 248 187 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 214 184 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 259 206 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 237 199 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 245 224 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 231 211 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 232 208 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 217 204 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 209 201 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 198 213 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 227 248 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 212 223 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 176 209 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 183 219 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 206 257 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 153 269 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
H. Zetterberg 77 17 49 -6 66
P. Datsyuk 63 26 39 12 65
T. Tatar 82 29 27 6 56
G. Nyquist 82 27 27 -11 54
J. Abdelkader 71 23 21 3 44
N. Kronwall 80 9 35 -4 44
R. Sheahan 79 13 23 -3 36
D. Helm 75 15 18 7 33
D. DeKeyser 80 2 29 11 31
S. Weiss 52 9 16 -2 25
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Howard 23 13 11 .910 2.44
P. Mrazek 16 9 2 .918 2.38

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