By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – When the Detroit Red Wings take the ice at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday night, it will be the first time the team has done so with an audience in nearly a month. While the team had hardly been unassailable on home ice this season, the Red Wings had won five of their last seven in Detroit before the break.
“We’ve got to make this place a tough place to play,” goalie Jimmy Howard said Wednesday. “It hasn’t been very kind to us here at home, and it’s upon us to find a way to get two points here.”
As the Red Wings push toward the end of the season, trying to extend their considerable playoff streak to 23 years, they will do so without several key players. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, two of the team’s biggest stars, attempted to play through injury in the Winter Olympics. Zetterberg, who had missed almost a month with back problems already, had surgery and is now out for the rest of the regular season. Datsyuk said his knee doesn’t feel any better than it did before he played for Team Russia in Sochi.
Certainly, the situation spells trouble – or at least an uphill climb – for Detroit, but head coach Mike Babcock refuses to dwell on the injury issues.
“I don’t know if it’s a growing concern,” Babcock said. “Just like Z, is that a growing concern? No. They’re not here. They’re not playing. We saw Z this morning, it was good to see him. Saw Pav this morning, it was good to see him. They’re not available.”
If the season ended Wednesday, the playoff streak of the Red Wings would end. They sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, just barely edged out for the final wild card spot by Columbus, which has 69 points to Detroit’s 68.
On Tuesday against New Jersey, the Red Wings lost 4-3. They gave up the game-winning goal with just 37 seconds remaining in regulation. Several days earlier, Detroit gave a goal with 29 seconds left in a win over Montreal. Prevailing in those kind of close games will be key for the Red Wings down the stretch.
Babcock said the team can finish out well simply by each player sticking with his individual assignment. The coach used the New Jersey game as an example of what players should not do.
“Don’t do anyone else’s job, just come back and stop in your spots, and it doesn’t go in the net, but sometimes when you get a little zealous, running around to help someone else do their job – we had four guys enter the zone before the puck, so we had five guys back, and they managed to get a shot on net, so that’s guys overdoing it,” Babcock said. “To be honest with you, when the game got to be 3-3, we had as much going as them. They were better than us first 10 minutes of the third, we got the game to 3-3, we had an unbelievable shift where Alfie [Daniel Alfredsson] got a great chance. They got a throw-in from the point deflected in the net. That’s what happened in the last 10 minutes.”
Like Howard, Babcock mentioned that playing well at home will be crucial.
“We had her going at home just before the break,” Babcock said. “We need to have her going, obviously. We’ve won two of the last three, dropped a game last night. Now we’ve got to win two of the next three. That’s just the way it is, and it’s going to be like that every three games. We’ve just got to keep grinding and giving ourselves opportunity.
“Last night we felt we had an opportunity,” Babcock added, “and we weren’t as good a team as we should have been last night, and we have to be better.”