Red Wings-Panthers Preview

The Detroit Red Wings were showing signs of a turnaround before

the offensive struggles that have plagued them of late resurfaced

as they were being shut out in their last game.

Perhaps the return of their leading scorer will help them

finally put those problems in the past.

Henrik Zetterberg is expected to play as the Wings face the

Florida Panthers on Saturday night in the opener of an eight-game

stretch away from Joe Louis Arena.

Injury-plagued Detroit (17-13-9) had won two in a row since a

six-game losing streak, scoring eight goals in those victories

after totaling seven during the skid. The Wings couldn’t keep it up

Monday, however, falling 3-0 to the New York Islanders.

Zetterberg has been the biggest loss due to injury, as he’s

missed 11 games with a herniated disk in his back. Despite the

extended absence, he still leads the team with 30 points in 28

games, and also tops Detroit at plus-12.

He indicated Friday that he plans to be back in the lineup

Saturday.

“It’s been a long time. How many games has he missed? Lots. I

just know we need him back,” coach Mike Babcock told the Red Wings’

official website. “I just know we have 19 games to the Olympic

break and we need some traction. We need traction in our work

ethic, in our in our preparation, in our consistency, in our

specialty teams, in our injury situation, we just flat out need

traction.”

Zetterberg hasn’t played a home game since Nov. 27, and it will

be Jan. 18 at the earliest until he competes at Joe Louis Arena

again. Detroit plays seven of its next eight on the road, with its

only “home” contest being the Winter Classic against Toronto at

Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day.

The Wings can only hope that Zetterberg’s dynamic game can help

them avoid any more sluggish efforts such as the one against the

struggling Islanders.

Zetterberg isn’t the only addition they’ll have Saturday, it

appears. Winger Justin Abdelkader is expected to be back after

missing five games due to a concussion, and center Darren Helm

could return for the first time since Dec. 4 due to a shoulder

injury.

“I just want to play. It’s painful. I just need to get out of

this bad luck of injuries and get ‘er going,” said Helm, who has

seven goals in 15 games. “I’m skating, I’m shooting, doing a lot of

good things. There’s a couple things I don’t know if I can handle,

the hard physical grind of an NHL game.”

The news isn’t as positive for defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who

is expected to miss three to five weeks after suffering a few

fractured ribs against the Islanders.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard is hoping to return Monday from his MCL

injury, so either Jonas Gustavsson – dealing with a groin injury

himself – or third-stringer Petr Mrazek will start Saturday.

Detroit will face a fellow offensively challenged club in

Florida (14-19-5), which has totaled three goals in losing its last

two games after recording 15 during a five-game winning streak. The

Panthers had won seven of eight before giving up 11 goals in the

back-to-back defeats, the most recent a 6-1 rout against Tampa Bay

on Monday.

Scott Clemmensen had given up six goals in four starts filling

in for the injured Tim Thomas before allowing all six on 36 shots

Monday.

“I’ve always said, to be successful you have to have a bad

memory and hopefully just use these next three days to kind of

recharge a little bit,” Clemmensen told the team’s official

website. “Hopefully that will do us well coming back for (four)

more home games here after Christmas.”

The Panthers have won both meetings with the Wings this season,

2-1 at Detroit on Dec. 7 and 3-2 in a shootout at Florida on Dec.

10.