Wings aim to get healthy in second half

BY foxsports • February 1, 2011

Feb. 1, 2011

Now that the All-Star break is over, the Red Wings are getting healthier -- just not as healthy as they would like.

Danny Cleary, who broke his ankle the day after Christmas in Minnesota, is expected to be back in the lineup Wednesday in Ottawa. Unfortunately, center Pavel Datsyuk won't be joining him.

Datsyuk, who fractured his right hand Dec. 22, isn't quite ready for game action.

"Still can't shoot 100 percent," Datsyuk told the Detroit News. "It bothers me a little bit. Just not ready."

Datsyuk is hoping he will be able to come back Friday when the Wings host the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I hope the two days will help me," Datsyuk said. "I will do what I can and shoot for the next game."

The Wings recalled Jan Mursak from Grand Rapids (AHL). In 14 games with the Wings this season, Mursak has one goal.

Cleary, who was having an outstanding season when he got hurt with 16 goals and 10 assists in 35 games, is chomping at the bit to play.

"I'm excited to get back," Cleary told the Detroit News. "It's been five weeks and the ankle is getting better every day."

Unlike last season, when the Wings were hit hard with injuries and struggled to win games, this year's edition has proven to be a bit more resilient. With 33 games left to play, the Wings are 30-13-6. Their 66 points have them second in the Western Conference behind the Vancouver Canucks' 71 points.

"We're better this year," coach Mike Babcock said before the break. "Last year we didn't have near the depth that we do now. Guys are a year older and we're a better team, so we can lose more players and have a better team, if that makes any sense. We just weren't good enough last year. I thought we played real well defensively last year and tried to hang in there. We weren't talented enough. We couldn't score."

In the Central Division, the Wings are six points ahead of the Nashville Predators and 10 points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks, last year's Stanley Cup champions. Both Nashville and Chicago have played one more game than the Wings.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard, ranked second in the league in wins with 24, said the feeling this season is different from the feeling last season.

"It's a very positive feeling," Howard said before the break. "We really haven't lost any ground. 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 keeping us ready and playing out there."

Howard is a bit behind his pace as a rookie, when he had a .924 save percentage and 2.26 goals-against average. Currently, he's 29th in save percentage at .906 and 32nd in goals-against average at 2.81.

Expect those numbers to improve in the latter half of the season, especially when all the injured players return.

Here is a look-ahead at some of the top games left on the schedule:

- A home-and-home against the Boston Bruins in Boston Feb. 11 and in Detroit Feb. 13.

- A visit to Tampa Bay Feb. 17 to take on Steve Yzerman's Lightning, currently second in the Eastern Conference ahead of Boston.

- Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals coming to Joe Louis Arena March 16.

- The Pittsburgh Penguins, who should have Sidney Crosby back then, are coming to Detroit March 21.

- Western Conference-leading Vancouver comes to town March 23.

- The Toronto Maple Leafs visiting March 26 in an Original Six matchup.

- And the traditional season-ending home-and-home games with the Blackhawks April 8 in Detroit and April 10 in Chicago.

All-Star wrap-up

Nick Lidstrom truly has accomplished everything there is to accomplish at the NHL level, including scoring his first career hat trick Dec. 15 against the St. Louis Blues.

Yet he still finds new things to do to show why he is still the best defenseman in the league.

In Sunday's All-Star Game, which everyone knows is all about offense, Lidstrom somehow managed to be a plus-7 for the game. He and defense partner Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators were on the ice for eight straight even-strength goals. Lidstrom was on the ice for one more goal than Weber, who finished plus-6.

The Wings captain's plus-7 was the best in an All-Star Game since Adam Oates was plus-7 in the 1991 All-Star Game.

"It can go either way -- you could be plus-7 or you could be minus-7, too," Lidstrom told NHL.com. "It's a matter of being on the ice at the right moments, I guess."

It was lucky for Weber, whom Lidstrom chose to be his partner, a rather nice compliment for the 25-year-old.

"I talked to Peter (Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette) before the game and he asked me if I had any requests and I said it'd be fun to play with Weber," Lidstrom said. "I just think he's a great young player. I think he's just going to get better and better. He's a great player as it is now.

"He's a division rival and you play against him so many times and I really like the way he plays, so I wanted to play with him and have a chance to play with a big guy like that."

Weber is 6-4, 234 pounds, compared to Lidstrom's 6-1, 190 pounds. Lidstrom is accustomed to playing with Niklas Kronwall, who is 6-0, 192 pounds, Brad Stuart, who is 6-2, 210, and even Brian Rafalski, who is 5-10, 194.

Weber had nothing but good things to say about his partner.

"He's obviously very special," Weber told NHL.com. "He's one of the best defensemen, if not one of the best ever to play the game. It's definitely something I'll never forget. I watched him growing up and just being able to play in a game with him is pretty cool."

Unfortunately for Weber, the next time he sees Lidstrom, they'll be back on opposing sides when the Wings visit the Predators this Saturday night.


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