Detroit Red Wings patching a lineup hit by COVID, with ‘tall task’ in Chicago

Detroit Free Press

Bobby Ryan brought “The Road” along to read on the road, but his main assignment right now is chemistry. With five players in COVID-19 protocol, the Detroit Red Wings are faced with patching their lineup as they seek to split their series against the Blackhawks on Sunday at Chicago.

Ryan spent Friday’s 4-1 loss on a line with Anthony Mantha, having lost regular linemates Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina, who — along with Sam Gagner, Jon Merrill and Adam Erne — are sidelined by the virus. On top of that, Darren Helm is questionable with an undisclosed injury.

Seeing COVID-19 ravage the lineup has been frustrating.

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Kevin Lankinen of the Chicago Blackhawks makes a save against the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center on Jan. 22, 2021 in Chicago.

“It’s hard to believe you can do more due diligence and be more aware of the situation than we have been and it still finds a way into five guys, and possibly more when you talk about contact tracing,” Ryan said Saturday. “We have done an incredible job of buying into what is in front of us.

“When you can’t ice a full roster and you are looking at guys jumping in, it changes things. It’s a minor inconvenience the rest of the stuff, but that’s the NHL this year. It’s going to be interesting. For me, my linemates are gone, the guys I went through camp with, and had some familiarity with, are gone. You are asking guys to fill different roles. It’s a tall task, but that is where we are at. That is what we have to accept. It is a little frustrating and you just hope everybody stays healthy and the guys that are down get healthy quickly and we can get back to work.”

It is up to the NHL and health officials to decide whether to postpone games. That has already happened to the Carolina Hurricanes, whom the Wings played in their season-opening series, and the Dallas Stars, whom the Wings are scheduled to play next (now that the Stars have opened their season after having to postpone the first four games).

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Coach Jeff Blashill said he will decide on the lineup when he finds out Sunday morning who is available. He went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen Friday, which enabled getting a look at newcomer Christian Djoos on the power play. The Wings went 0-for-5 on man advantages Friday, with nine shots on net. Through five games, they are 1-for-12 on the power play.

“I don’t think we’re as far off as people would think,” Ryan said. “Everything has got to be a little better — our entries have to be cleaner, which we addressed. We have to get the puck off the wall a little better and we have to (get to) pucks inside the bubble, around the net a little better. The onus is on everybody a little bit, but I don’t think we’re that far. We’ve had opportunities.”

Merrill, Fabbri, Gagner and Zadina are all man-advantage regulars. Between quarantine regulations and needing a few days to get back up to speed, players in protocol will miss significant time.

“We estimate approximately 18 to 21 days when you are out,” Blashill said. “It’s 10 days and then another four where you can’t exert yourself, so now you’re talking 14 days at a bare minimum. That’s assuming your symptoms are gone. Then you have to get yourself back in shape, so that’s probably another seven days, so you’re talking around three weeks. So when you lose guys, you lose them for a while.

“But I know we’ll have 20 guys dressed easily good enough to win the hockey game.”

Ryan and Blashill did their media interviews from the team hotel, around 3 p.m. Chicago time. Other than going for a walk, with masks mandated, and at meals, players are asked to stay in their rooms. Ryan brought five books on the trip, including John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Road” and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” Road games are usually a chance to bond, but this season, reading in a hotel room is the new normal.

“There’s no congregating,” Ryan said. “There’s no chance really to spend time with your teammates except a quick meal after the game, and that’s three to a table. It’s protocol. You do it.”

Looking for something to read?

What: “The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings.”

Author: Helene St. James, who has covered the Red Wings at the Detroit Free Press since 1996. Foreword by Chris Osgood, winner of three Stanley Cups as a Wings goaltender.

Publisher: Triumph Books.

Pages: 336 pages (paperback).

Price: $16.95.

Availability: Available in leading bookstores and online from booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

About the book: “The Big 50” brings to life the men and moments that made the Red Wings such a dynamic and iconic franchise for nearly a century. The book features never-before-told stories about the greats such as Howe, Yzerman, Lidstrom and Lindsay, the near-greats beloved by fans and the great memories of Fight Night, the Fabulous Fifties, the Team for the Ages, the Grind Line, The Joe and much more.

Get it signed! For a personalized copy of “The Big 50,” contact St. James at

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