Smith will be paired with Kronwall to start against Penguins; Ericsson has surgery to repair broken finger

DETROIT >> Quick update from Wings practice at Joe Louis Arena, which wound up being an optional skate.

Five of the injured players – Darren Helm (concussion), Jonas Gustavsson (groin), Joakim Andersson (broken foot), Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder) and Daniel Cleary (knee) – skated.

Jonathan Ericsson did have surgery to repair a broken finger suffered in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Toronto. He’ll miss up to two weeks.

“We’ve had actually lucked out for a while on the blue line,” Brian Lashoff said of the injury bug that seems to be plaguing the room. “Not having E is going to be tough. It’s just kind of strange how it’s been happening all year and now these last couple of games guys are just going down. We just have to rally as a group back there and makeup for the minutes that E won’t be playing.”

Tuesday was the sixth consecutive game the Wings have lost a player to injury.

Gustavsson (groin) began the long list of injuries after leading the team to a win over the New Jersey Devils on March. 4. That was followed by Andersson (broken foot, March 9 against the New York Rangers), Tomas Jurco (broken rib, March 11 against Columbus), Todd Bertuzzi (lower-body injury, March 14 against Edmonton) and Justin Abdelkader (leg laceration, Sunday against Chicago.

Bertuzzi is the lone player to return off that list.

“There’s been times when we’ve had guys out, but not like this,” Helm said. “To have almost every one of our centers from the start of the year be out right now and seeing Johnny go out last night I don’t want to say it’s comical, but it’s unbelievable. You can’t really explain what’s happening with this team, but the guys that are in the lineup have been doing a good job so once everyone is back healthy we’ll make a good push.”

The team is also without Pavel Datsyuk (knee), Henrik Zetterberg (back) and Stephen Weiss (sports hernia).

“I don’t think anyone has seen anything like this,” Lashoff said. “It’s been weird for sure. A lot of guys have had opportunities to come up from Grand Rapids and guys have played more minutes than they would have before and those guys have been playing well and they’ve kept us in the hunt.”

Wing coach Mike Babcock said that despite the rash of injuries this year it doesn’t wear on him emotionally.

“I do the same every day, get up and do the best I can,” Babcock said. “I’m not carrying around the weight of the world, I don’t do that.”

Babcock said he’ll start with Brendan Smith paired with Niklas Kronwall on the blue line Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“He’s just got to compete hard and make good decisions with the puck,” Babcock said. “Smitty’s got the competitive nature you need, he’s got the skating you need, the skill you need. His decision-making with the puck gets him in trouble at times and his decision making being active, so those are things you grow with, you become a better player. Do more by doing less, make the simple play, don’t force things, lots of shifts are 50-50, nothing happens.”

Smith began Tuesday’s game as the fourth-line forward before dropping back when Ericsson got injured.

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