DETROIT >> Life without the captain begins Wednesday night in Montreal for the Detroit Red Wings.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Justin Abdelkader, on the loss of Henrik Zetterberg for the rest of the regular season. “We have to move forward with the group in here now. We can’t just keep answering the questions anymore about the guys that are out. He’s our captain, he’s our leader. It’s life without Z. We have to worry about the guys in here.”
“He’s the one who drives the train in here and you know it’s going to be tough without him but it’s no excuse,” Jimmy Howard said. “There are still a lot of great hockey players in this dressing room and we just have to play our game.”
Zetterberg had surgery on Friday to remove part of a disc which was rubbing against a nerve, which caused severe back pain.
“Well you just deal with it,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “No sense worrying about it. We’ve got to find a way to get in (the playoffs). That’s what we’re going to do.”
Zetterberg played one game for Sweden at the Olympics before withdrawing.
“That’s a big loss,” Tomas Tatar said. “He was carrying. He’s the type of player when it’s a tied game he can decide it. But we’ve dealt with it before. (Injuries) have been happening all season long. It’s not easy to deal with, but it’s just hockey. Some seasons are like this, you get unlucky. We have good Grand Rapids guys that are filling the gap. They’ve come up and done a really good job and given us a chance to be where we’re at right now.”
Despite playing in just 45 of the Wings’ 58 games this season, Zetterberg leads the team in goals (16), assists (32), shots on goal (151) and plus-minus (plus-19).
“He’s our captain and best player so it’s a big loss,” Joakim Andersson said. “We have a lot of other good players that can do good stuff to make up for it and win games.
“We’ve been without Hank and (Pavel Datsyuk) a lot this year and many others,” Andersson continued. “We’ve been missing all our best players a bunch before so we know we can win games without them.”
The rest of the Wings’ injury news is a bit murky.
Datsyuk (knee) and Johan Franzen (concussion) appear ready to return to the lineup against the Canadiens, but that decision won’t be made until after the morning skate.
“I hope,” Datsyuk said when asked if he’s playing Wednesday. “I hope so one day the pain is (gone). Now it’s still the same.”
Datsyuk missed 14 of Detroit’s final 16 games before the Olympic break, but did play all five games with Russia finishing with six points in five games.
Franzen, who has missed 22 of the last 23 games, has been cleared to return. He had 17 points over his last 17 games before suffering a concussion on Dec. 15.
“It’s probably just the history of it coming back and stuff like that so let’s get this last practice in (Wednesday) morning and then we decide after,” Franzen said. “(Tuesday) was really good. Sunday was not as good as today but today was good.”
Two players that won’t return over the next two games are Stephen Weiss (sport hernia surgery) and Jakub Kindl (MCL).
“I still need a few more days of practice, obviously the decision will be up the coaching staff when they think I’ll be ready to come back and play in a game and make a decision whether they want me to play a game in Grand Rapids or just play up with us,” Weiss said. “Those decisions will be made in the next few days.”
Weiss made the trip to continue to practice.
Kindl missed the last two games before the break.
“I don’t feel any pain, but I feel my right leg is just a little weaker than the other one,” Kindl said. “I just need to practice and get that confidence back in my knee.”
Ryan Sproul was recalled from Grand Rapids and will make the trip to Montreal.