DETROIT -- Greetings from Detroit, where it’s snowing lightly.
The Kings’ morning skate at Joe Louis Arena was optional, but it appeared that their lineup Saturday against the Red Wings will be the same as it was in their 4-1 victory over St. Louis on Thursday. Forwards Tanner Pearson and Linden Vey remained on the ice with goaltender Martin Jones for extra work, a sign they’ll be scratched. Coach Darryl Sutter left the arena without speaking to the media.
It was a jolt to walk into the Red Wings’ locker room and see many unfamiliar names affixed to the stalls. The Red Wings, plagued by injuries all season, have had to promote so many players from the minor leagues that they ran out of stalls and had to put one player on a folding chair near the entrance of the room. The Red Wings are expected to be without their top four centers when they face the Kings on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena, where they’re only 6-10-7 this season.
Among the missing are Pavel Datsyuk (lower-body injury), Darren Helm (shoulder and groin), Stephen Weiss (hernia surgery), Jonathan Ericsson (ribs), Johan Franzen (concussion) and Daniel Alfredsson (back spasms).
No wonder Detroit was shut out, 1-0, by the Ducks and New York Rangers in its previous two games and scored only four goals in the two games before that.
“We’ve got millions and millions of dollars that never seems to play,” Coach Mike Babcock said. “As much as the other guys are digging in, you need a certain amount of depth in the league to have success. And one of the reasons you don’t score is you don’t have enough scoring depth. It’s easy to match up against us.”
The Red Wings have made the playoffs 22 consecutive seasons, but it will be tough for them to extend that streak in their first season in the Eastern Conference. Through Friday’s games they were two points out of the second wild-card spot, a precarious place to be.
“Over my time here we’ve been in some tough situations,” Babcock said after his team’s morning skate. “We found a way to dig ourselves out. We’re optimistic that we can do it again.”
The standings are updated every day on a whiteboard in their locker room, so players are well aware of their uncomfortable situation.
“It’s a reminder every single day to see the big board there and where we are,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said, “and watching every night teams that we need to catch continue to get points, there’s definitely that sense of urgency that we’ve got to get on a roll.”
Detroit struggled through much of last season’s lockout-abbreviated schedule but got its act together with a 7-3-3 run in April and wins in its last four games to earn the seventh seed in the West. The Red Wings upset the No. 2 Ducks in the first round and took a 3-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round before losing Game 7 in overtime.
So a comeback is possible. But can it happen again? “We’ve got to get guys back and healthy,” Howard said.
Forward Justin Abdelkader also said the return of injured players will be the first step in any push to climb back into playoff position.
“We’ve got a young group and we’re just trying to find ways to win and play the way we’re capable of,” he said. “We lost the last two games 1-0, but at the same time I think we were really close to winning both those games and we played some of our better hockey.
“I think we know we have to play with this group but at the same time we’ve got to bide time until we get some of those guys back.”
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