The Detroit Red Wings won't be getting the emotional boost they were hoping for heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.
Forward Pavel Datsyuk skated with the Red Wings' “Black Aces” on Thursday morning, leading to speculation that the Hart Trophy candidate would miss his seventh straight game. The two-time Stanley Cup champion took the pre-game skate but couldn't make a go of it.
The prospects of a return to the lineup by the Russian superstar looked good Wednesday as he took a full practice and looked strong; however it appears as though the Wings may decide to err on the side of caution and keep the sleek skating sniper on the sidelines.
This will be a blow to the 30-year old Datsyuk who has been champing at the bit to see action in the finals. Following practice Wednesday he stated that he was willing to play anywhere.
"Wing, centre, defenceman, I want to play so bad. I don't want to watch this game again," Datsyuk joked. "The game is 60 minutes. I hope I play 60 minutes."
While the Wings have yet to reveal the extent of the injury, describing it simply as a ‘lower-body' injury; speculation is that Datsyuk suffered a fractured bone in his right foot during Game 2 of the Wings' Western Conference finals series against the Blackhawks.
After an extended absence, Datsyuk admitted to a secret weapon to combat the boredom of being forced to watch the Finals on television.
"I take in lots of beer," Datsyuk joked.
With Datsyuk unable to go, it will be a significant blow to the team's ability to contain Pittsburgh's two-headed monster of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
While Detroit has been able to limit Crosby to a single point in the series thanks to a blanketing checking effort by Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom, the potential addition of Datsyuk would have given the Red Wings another body to shadow Malkin who has been the Pens' most dangerous player in the series.
While Datsyuk is known primarily as an offensive threat, he is also one of the best two-way forwards in the league and captured the Frank J. Selke trophy last year as the NHL's top defensive forward. He is nominated for the award once again this year and his teammates to a man know how valuable he is at both ends of the ice.
"When (Henrik Zetterberg) plays his 23, 24 minutes, it's hard," Wings' netminder Chris Osgood said following practice Wednesday. "He's all over the ice, throwing hits, chasing Crosby around. To get Pav back is going to be key just to play big minutes against their top players. And he adds offence to us. We've made it this far (without him), but we don't want to take any more chances."
While Datsyuk won't be in the line-up, the Wings will get a boost from the return of Kris Draper, one of the top face-off men in all of hockey. That should be the perfect tonic for Detroit's struggling penalty killing unit that has been surprisingly poor during the post-season.
After killing off 78% of opponents chances with the man-advantage during the regular season, the Wings' are sporting an abysmal 71% penalty killing rate in the post-season. That percentage dips to an even worse 66% on the road.
"It's not even the percentage, it's when you give them up," Red Wings' head coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday. "It was great against Anaheim in Game 7. It was real good against Chicago when we needed it. Last game, we needed it and it let us down."