DETROIT – When training camp began, Wings coach Mike Babcock saw Tomas Holmstrom playing a reduced on the team.
Those plans have since changed.
At 38 years old, Holmstrom is still competing, battling hard in front of the net and Babcock has noticed.
“The thing about Tommy is that he competes and works hard,” Babcock said. “He does what he does, I mean, sometimes it’s not pretty through the neutral zone, but he’s great in the offensive zone. He grinds, he works, competes and gets in front of the net. He’s a competitor.”
Babcock had Holmstrom penciled in on the fourth line, but still wanted his net-front presence on the power play.
The last two games, with Todd Bertuzzi sidelined with an illness, Holmstrom has played on the wing with Pavel Datsyuk centering and Danny Cleary.
“I have my chance, but I have to go full out and try to make it hard for (Babcock) to put me back to less ice-time,” Holmstrom said.
“Probably not,” Niklas Lidstrom said when asked if starting on the fourth line didn’t sit well with Holmstrom. “He’s a competitive guy. He doesn’t like to rest. He wants to play as much as he can. He’s got a lot of pride too.”
On Saturday, Holmstrom, who has a goal, three assists and a plus-1, logged a season high 14 minutes and 52 seconds of ice time. On Tuesday, he broke that mark ending with 15:32 of ice time.
“I’m getting my limited ice-time on the power play, but let’s say it’s two power plays a game, that’s going to be tough for me to get a lot of ice-time,” Holmstrom said. “But what can you do? It’s not ideal for me and it’s really tough to get going when you’re playing limited minutes, and sitting a long time. It sure is tough to getting a flow.”
Holmstrom, who is sixth all-time in franchise history with 113 power play goals, has a knack for screening goaltenders and puck-tipping ability with his amazing hand-eye coordination.
“He has always been a hard worker and gives it his all,” said Lidstrom, who has played his entire NHL career with his fellow countryman. “That’s been showing the last couple of games. He’s always so good in the offensive zone, whether he’s battling in the corners or being that guy in front of the net. We need that net-front presence. He’s always been there on 5-on-5 and the power play.”
Holmstrom is in the final year of a two-year deal, paying him $1.875 million.
“He’s doing the things he does very well, especially on the power play,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “He’s basically created a roll for himself and it has kept in the in the league what is it 15 years now? He’s still going strong.
“He has really good hands,” Zetterberg added. “A lot of times you only think he can be in front of the net, but he sees the ice very well and he’s really good at getting pucks back and working in the corner. He’s a good fit for the top line.”
Holmstrom has played 963 games in his career and has been bothered recently by injuries from a broken foot, groin issues and knee problems.
“He’s had his share of injuries over the years, but he’s come back and battled hard,” Lidstrom said. “Just his work ethic has allowed him to overcome so many of those injuries. If he’s hurt or banged up he’s always working, that’s why he’s back up on one of the top lines.”
As for Holmstrom’s age, “I don’t know how he does it at this age,” laughed Lidstrom, who’s 41 and is second on the team in goals scored (six) and points (11). “He wants to play in every situation. I’m sure he wants to be out there killing penalties if he could, he’s just that type of player that wants to be out there all the time.
“Well, he’s blocked a lot of my shots so he’s good,” Lidstrom chuckled. “All kidding aside, he’s a hard worker and that’s why he’s earned that spot on a top line.”