Penguins Notebook: Red Wings finally healthy, ready for stretch run


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DETROIT -- Detroit is one of the perennial powers in the NHL, and it's not unusual for the Red Wings to put up some striking numbers.

Their most eye-catching statistic this season, however, has to be 291 -- the total of man-games they had lost to injury before facing the Penguins Monday at Joe Louis Arena. The Penguins, by contrast, hardly have been uncommonly healthy in 2009-10, but still had lost only 182.

All those injuries make it easy to understand why Detroit, which has reached the Stanley Cup final in each of the past two springs, entered the game with a 35-23-13 record, and a rather tenuous hold on the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"We're not going to make excuses," Detroit center Kris Draper said. "It's a fact. We lost a lot of good hockey players. Nothing was minor. It's something that's been tough."

The list of high-impact players who have missed significant time includes Johan Franzen (55 games), Niklas Kronwall (44), Valtteri Filppula (37), Tomas Holmstrom (14) and Henrik Zetterberg (eight).

"All the injured guys had to take a bus to the games when we were on the road," Franzen said. "That's never happened before."

The Red Wings, though, are getting healthy and were on an 8-2-1 roll before facing the Penguins.

Suffice to say, there aren't many teams in the West eager to face them in the opening round.

"We just have to keep winning games down the stretch," Draper said. "We truly believe that if we can just get into the playoffs, we can do some good things again."

Malkin out again

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin was scratched for the third time in four games because of a bruised right foot.

His absence forced coach Dan Bylsma to scramble his forward combinations, but Bylsma stressed that being without Malkin does not change the way he wants his team to play.

The problem, he said, is that players who are most comfortable on the wing occasionally get pressed into service in the middle.

"The adjustment to our game isn't scrapping how we play and what we do, or that we have to go into a defensive mode," he said. "We're going to play as quickly as we can, both defensively and offensively.

"We're going to get to the offensive zone and try to play there as much as we can. That doesn't change much without [Malkin]. The adjustment we have to make it that we don't have a lot of natural centers."

Babcock praises Crosby

Mike Babcock of Detroit coached Penguins center Sidney Crosby at the Olympics in Vancouver and watched him score an overtime goal for Canada in the gold-medal game.

Of course, he also saw Crosby captain the Penguins to a Stanley Cup victory against the Red Wings last spring, so Babcock has decidedly mixed feelings about Crosby.

"I had a pretty good appreciation for him when we played against him over the last few years," Babcock said. "I had a pretty good understanding of what he can do.

"The big thing, when you're around him, is you see how competitive he is, how bad he wants to be good. I think that's [true of] all the great players. People talk about talent all the time, but to me it's about soul, about how bad you want to be special.

"There are lots of talented players in the game, but the real superstars have something that drives them. And he obviously has that."

Bylsma impressed with goalie

Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard did some quality work during a 2-1 shootout loss Jan. 31 at Mellon Arena, when he stopped 47 shots.

Bylsma, though, said he was well aware of Howard's ability long before that game. Indeed, before he or Howard had moved into their current positions in the NHL.

"We went into Grand Rapids two years or three years ago, and threw 44 shots at him and I think we won in a shootout, 2-1," said Bylsma, who was coaching the Penguins' American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre at the time.

"At that point in time, that was a surprise to me, but it's not a surprise to me anymore when I see him play, be the backstop of their team and make saves for them.

"He was very, very good against us [in January], so I see him as a solid goaltender for them. He's capable of that 45-save performance. It might not be the name that's in headlines around the league, but I think he's proven that he's going to be a solid one for them for years."


Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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