Babcock says it’s up to Datsyuk if he plays Thursday

DETROIT >> Will he play or won’t he play?

That will be the biggest question surrounding the Wings’ morning skate Thursday prior to their game against the Florida Panthers.

And if all continues to go well, Pavel Datsyuk will make his return to Detroit’s lineup for the first time since the Winter Classic.

“He’s got to decide,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

“I hope,” Datsyuk said when asked if he was playing Thursday. “Every day it’s better and now I (can) skate with the team and it’s more fun and more enjoyable and more confidence.”

Datsyuk has missed 14 straight games due to some sort of knee injury.

Datsyuk has practiced frequently with the team since the injury, but Wednesday was the first time he’s skated on a line, centering Daniel Alfredsson and Darren Helm.

“Let’s talk about Pav (Friday), see if he’s actually playing or not,” Babcock said. “He’s got to be comfortable. Obviously there’s a lot on the line for him. The Olympics are in his country and he wants to play.”

Datsyuk has said all along he would return prior to the Olympics, where he’s the captain for Russia.

He said that wanting to play in the Olympics hasn’t put any extra pressure on himself.

“It’s everybody that’s feeling the pressure, but I need to be smart and make the right decision,” Datsyuk said. “We’ll see (Friday).”

Detroit also plays at Tampa Bay Saturday before the Olympic break.

“Yeah, it’s important,” Datsyuk said when asked if it was important to get a couple games in before the break. “But it’s frustrating to stay in the locker room and watch the game, it makes me more nervous and (I) can’t help the team in the locker room. (It’s) better to play.”

Datsyuk is still fourth on the team in scoring with 15 goals and 17 assists in 35 games.

“We need Pav, he’s one of our best players,” said Jimmy Howard, who’ll start in goal Thursday. “He’s a dynamic player as well. When he’s out there he takes a lot of attention off some other players. I think that’s going to be good for the other guys.”

If Datsyuk does return the Wings will need to clear a roster spot before activating him.

And that’ll be done by placing Jakub Kindl on short-term injured reserve. Kindl didn’t practice Thursday due to a lower-body injury.

“We need to get healthy and stay above the (playoff) line, just continue to battle and find a way to get points,” Howard said.

Kindl, who has played the last three games, averages just over 18 minutes a game this season and was limited to just 11:16 against Vancouver on Monday.

Wings general manager Ken Holland said that Kindl won’t play Saturday either.

From how the lines skated, Patrick Eaves, Daniel Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi will be the three healthy scratches against Florida.


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