By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – When it became clear after the Olympics that the Detroit Red Wings would lose their two best players, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, for an extended period of time, it seemed like a worst-case scenario. As the season barrels along and Detroit tries to extend its 22-year playoff streak, the injury situation seems ever day to grow increasingly more dire for the Red Wings as players have continued to drop like flies.
The latest to fall was Jonathan Ericsson, who suffered a broken finger Tuesday in Detroit’s win over Toronto. Darren Helm, himself unavailable because of lingering concussion symptoms, has never seen anything like this current stretch of injuries.
“There’s been times when there’s been a lot of guys out, but not like this,” Helm said Wednesday after the team’s practice. “Seeing Johnny go out yesterday was almost, I don’t want to say comical, but it’s just unbelievable. I can’t really explain what’s happening to this team. The guys that have in the lineup have done a good job, and hopefully we can get some guys healthy and make a good push.”
There had been some optimism that Helm could get back to the ice soon, but Sunday proved a setback, with symptoms forcing Helm to leave the ice during Sunday’s skate. Despite what Helm calls three good days since then, he still does not know when he will be back.
The second most recent casualty for the Wings was Justin Abdelkader, who is expected to miss two weeks with a laceration on his leg – now sealed up with 11 or 12 stitches – that he suffered in the team’s loss against Chicago.
“I didn’t know how bad it was cut until I looked down at it,” Abdelkader said. “I could see down, see it split open. Obviously you don’t know the extent of the injury until the trainers, doctors look at it.
“It was really close,” Abdelkader added later. “I was really lucky. Doctor said I was really lucky it didn’t cut one of my tendons. I got fortunate that way but it’s kind of a bad break and unlucky deal.”
Abdelkader is taking his efforts to return one day at a time. Head coach Mike Babcock would not talk about the injuries at length other than to acknowledge he has never experienced anything like this string of problems.
Out of commission for Detroit lately have been Zetterberg (back), Datysuk (knee), Helm (concussion), Joakim Andersson (foot), Tomas Jurco (ribs), Stephen Weiss (hernia), Jonas Gustavsson (groin), Daniel Cleary (knee), Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder), Abdelkader (leg) and most recently Ericsson (finger).
“It’s crazy,” Abdelkader said. “It’s something you never think of and imagine happening with all these injuries and all these guys out, but the team’s been doing a good job of hanging in there and working hard each night, trying to get wins and get points as we fight for a playoff spot.”
With their Tuesday win over Toronto, the Red Wings pulled to within one point of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Just like last season, the team’s postseason streak is on the line. While this group could perhaps draw some confidence from the way last year’s squad squeaked into the postseason and advanced to the second round before getting eliminated, Abdelkader said – with something of a long face – that this year’s situation is different.
“Last year we were a lot more healthy than we are this year, so there’s a lot of new faces in here,” Abdelkader said. “Hopefully we can slowly start getting guys back, but you just never know how injuries are going to heal and how soon guys are going to come back.
“It’s frustrating,” Abdelkader continued. “But that’s part of the game. You can’t control that. You can’t go out there and just be scared you’re going to get injured or scared something’s going to happen. You’ve just got to go out and play. Those things kind of happen. It’s just unfortunate that they’ve been happening right in a row for us.”