Little by little, the Detroit Red Wings are getting healthier.
The visiting Red Wings are expected to have one of their top players back from injury Wednesday night when they return from the All-Star break looking to hand the Ottawa Senators an eighth straight loss for the first time in 15 years.
Despite injuries to key contributors like Pavel Datsyuk (broken wrist), Danny Cleary (broken ankle), Tomas Holmstrom (broken hand), Mike Modano (hand) and Brad Stuart (broken jaw), Detroit (30-13-6) still leads the Central Division and is second to Vancouver in the Western Conference.
“When you look at all the injuries that we’ve had, the way we’ve been able to stay in the standings says a lot about our character and our team and our management and coaching staff,” said goalie Jimmy Howard, who recently missed a game with a bruised right kneecap.
Though Datsyuk is likely to miss a 17th straight game and Holmstrom his sixth in a row, they appear close to returning. Cleary, however, is expected to be in the lineup for the first time since Dec. 26.
“Obviously, we’re going to be a better team after the break with getting our guys back,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We’re better this year. Last year we didn’t have the depth that we do this year.”
With 16 goals and 10 assists in 35 games, Cleary appears ready to help the Red Wings continue their success after the break.
“(The ankle is) still sore, but as long as the doctors tell me … it’s gonna be sore, so there’s not much you can do about it,” Cleary told the Red Wings’ official website. “I’m excited to be back. We need a nice push because the West is so tight; every game is important.”
Detroit, which went 3-3-1 before the break, has outscored the Senators 7-3 while winning the last two meetings, including 3-2 at Ottawa on Oct. 11, 2008.
Johan Franzen, who scored his team-leading 21st goal in Detroit’s 3-1 win over New Jersey last Wednesday, has three in the last two games against the Senators.
Valtteri Filppula has four goals and eight assists in his last 12 contests, and he also scored in the Red Wings’ last visit to Ottawa. Howard stopped 29 shots in a 4-1 home win over Ottawa on Feb. 13.
The Senators (17-26-8), who lost 2-1 at New Jersey on Tuesday, are in the midst of a 1-9-4 stretch.
Alex Kovalev scored for Ottawa, which was limited to a season-low 16 shots on goal. The Senators have not recorded more than two goals during their seven-game skid and been outscored 26-10.
Ottawa hasn’t dropped eight in a row since an 11-game slide Dec. 30, 1995-Jan. 25, 1996.
“We need to just try to get on that scoreboard as much as possible,” forward Nick Foligno told the Senators’ official website. “We need to make a better effort to get on the scoresheet and (do it) more often. If everyone commits themselves to doing that and playing well defensively and then (we have) good goaltending, there is no reason why we can’t win games.”
Robin Lehner made 31 saves Tuesday in his second career start.
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