By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Red Wings have called up so many young players this season that defenseman Brendan Smith joked a more appropriate name for the team at times might be the Grand Rapids Red Wings.
But the subtraction of so many of Detroit’s regulars, including its two stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, does not make Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby any more likely to look past the Red Wings going into Thursday’s game.
“You see the guys that are playing their positions, they’re pretty good hockey players,” Crosby said after Pittsburgh’s morning skate Thursday. “They have a lot of skills. I think definitely those guys are a big part of their team, but that being said, the guys who have filled in, you’re looking at some centermen, some players that are plugged into those top two lines that they’re pretty skilled and pretty good players themselves, so think you still prepare for guys that are going to compete and knowing the situation they’re in, they’re going to be desperate.”
The Penguins themselves have dealt with a slew of injuries, and their situation is as close as any to comparable with that of the Red Wings. Pittsburgh still enjoys the services of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, however, while Detroit has lost Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Crosby credits the depth of Detroit’s organization for the fact the team is still in the playoff hunt.
“That’s kind of been the story with their organization for a long time,” Crosby said. “They’ve been so competitive, and they continue to be … with the injuries they have. That has to do with their coaching and preparing them to maybe play a certain way if certain guys are missing, but the depth within their organization, I think you see it every year a late-round pick or someone that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of attention seems to come in and play really well for them. I think that’s just a credit to their organization and obviously their coaching staff.”
In a silver lining to a less than ideal situation, this season’s struggles can enhance the ability of Detroit to have a stockpile of young talent at the ready. While head coach Mike Babcock seemed reluctant to compare Pittsburgh’s injury situation to that of the Red Wings because the Penguins still have their star players, he did present a long-term bright side.
“If you’re the general manager of the organization, instead of thinking you’ve got something in the summer, you know what you’ve got,” Babcock said Thursday. “You’ve played them all. You’ve looked at the kids in the organization, and so now you can decide what you need to do to fix your team, and it’s not thinking you know; you actually do know.”
Of course, that does not necessarily mean the Red Wings have it easy in the meantime. They are scrapping for a playoff berth but still a point out of the eight and final wild card slot in the East. Babcock said the group just has to go play, remembering that it can flourish even though it might often be an underdog in terms of talent.
“We know tonight or last game or in every game we’ve played for a long time, the other team’s going to have more skill than us. So what?” Babcock said. “Skill doesn’t win. Teams win. So let’s just get out there and do what we have to do.”