DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings are all too familiar with their next opponent and in particular one player … Alex Ovechkin.
“He knows how to play,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s a big man, can skate, shoots the puck, he loves to play hockey. He loves to score goals. He’s dangerous. He doesn’t need much room.”
Heading into play Thursday, Ovechkin leads the league with 38 goals and is seventh in points with 55 in 48 games.
“He can bull you over, shoot the puck and you look and it’s in the net,” Babcock said. “We’re going to have to be real tidy defensively. We have to execute coming out of our own zone the first time and spend time in their zone.”
Ovechkin averaged nearly 54 goals in each of his first five seasons in the league.
“He’s big,” Danny DeKeyser said. “He’s a load to handle, especially when we gets some speed going. You just have to try and keep the puck out of his hands. He shoots from everywhere. Anywhere over the blue line he’s looking to shoot. As a defenseman you just have a tight gap and not give him too much room or let him get behind you as well.”
Ovechkin, who has only averaged 34 goals in each of the last three seasons, is on pace to score 60 goals this season.
“It starts with Ovechkin,” Niklas Kronwall said.
Ovechkin’s career high for goals in a season is 65.
“You’ve got to play (Ovechkin) a little differently,” Kyle Quincey said. “A lot of times you want to take away the pass and let the goalie do his job, but he can beat goalies from pretty far out, so we’ve got to be tighter on him and almost make him pass. He’s a guy you almost try to get him to pass the puck instead of shooting it because he can score from the tops of the circles.”
Helping to try and neutralize Ovechkin could be Henrik Zetterberg, who’s expected to return to the lineup after missing the last two games with a back injury.
Zetterberg, who leads the team with 16 goals and 28 assists, missed 11 games in December with a herniated disc.
“(This time it’s) a little different, but it’s in the area,” Zetterberg said. “We just have to see. We’ve done everything we could so it doesn’t get worse and now just hopefully stay on this path and it keeps getting better.”
He added that he’s not concerned this will be a recurring problem.
Getting Zetterberg back is something the Wings need with five games left before Olympic break.
The team has given up 10 goals over the last two games.
“We know every night we’re tested,” Babcock said. “Washington has a lot of guys that can hurt you on one shift. We’re going to have to be real good. Their power play is good. We have to pay attention to detail in that area.”
Fourteen of Ovechkin’s goals have come on the power play.
“The biggest thing is we have to look after our part,” Babcock said. “As much as it is about the opposition it’s way more about yourself and how you play. We’re very capable of doing what we think is a game plan. Does that guarantee success? No, but it sure gives us a chance.”
Pavel Datsyuk is still out with an apparent leg injury.
“He was still one-leg skating today,” Babcock said.
Jimmy Howard will be back in goal after missing the last four games with a knee injury.
“It definitely wasn’t as serious as before so I knew it wasn’t going to be that long,” said Howard, who missed eight games in December with a knee injury. “It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster ride here for a little bit. We’ve just got to find a way to even out those highs and lows and find a more consistent basis. I think it’s just finding any way possible to get points each and every night.”