Detroit — Being put in COVID-19 protocol the day before Thanksgiving pretty much made the holiday a dud for defenseman Danny DeKeyser.
“Brutal timing,” said DeKeyser after Monday’s practice. “I didn’t really get to do anything. I did get a little bit of turkey and potatoes.”
DeKeyser missed five games but will return to the lineup Tuesday against Nashville, given the news defenseman Marc Staal is now on the COVID-19 protocol list.
DeKeyser was asymptomatic the entire duration this time, the second time he’s actually had the virus. He felt worse the first time.
“I was waiting for it (symptoms) for 48 hours but I never got any symptoms,” DeKeyser said. “I was up in my room staying away from my wife and kids the first couple of days and when I was asymptomatic, I was starting to go crazy up there, so I threw on a mask and gloves and stayed 25 feet away from my family members at all times and ate dinner at a table away from everybody.”
Having an opportunity to watch his teammates go on a win streak, and the way the Wings are winning, have been enjoyable for DeKeyser.
“It’s been fun,” DeKeyser said. “Everyone is buying in and playing well, and our goalies have been playing real well, and it just seems like we’re finding ways to score big goals when we need them, or get a big saves when we need it, and finding ways to win games.
“It’s a collective thing that is going on.”
The Wings made the playoffs the first four seasons of DeKeyser’s career, before missing the last five as the organization went through the rigors of a rebuild.
It’s still early in the regular season, but the way the Wings have started the season is a breath of fresh air.
“There was a buzz around the rink and it was a lot of fun to be part of that,” said DeKeyser of the playoff seasons. “Then you go several years without having that and start to miss it and try to get that feeling back. This year, it’s still early, we’re just trying to keep playing hard and trying to make sure to keep playing hockey as long as we can this year.
“It’s been fun, there’s a lot of energy in the room.”
DeKeyser is two years removed now from back surgery, and said he’s feeling fine these days, after gradually regaining his strength last season.
Along with DeKeyser returning to the lineup — he was paired with Moritz Seider during Monday’s practice — the Wings called up defenseman Dan Renouf from Grand Rapids, with Staal and Gustav Lindstrom (lower body) both unavailable (and Troy Stecher out long term after wrist surgery).
The Wings’ depth, particularly on defense, was considered a strength and is currently being tested.
“We started with eight defensemen, who all could be good NHL defensemen,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Stech is out with a fairly long-term injury, and we feel a little bit fortunate that (Staal and DeKeyser) protocol situations were staggered, so Staalsy goes out and DK comes back in. You’d love to have your lineup with all players available to you at any point, but that’s not the reality of it. Depth becomes critical.
“The last game Danny (Renouf) played for us, he played real good, so depth throughout the organization becomes critical. It gets tested as you go through the season and with COVID, gets tested even further.”
Blashill said the length of Staal’s absence is still to be determined, while Lindstrom’s availability will be evaluated as the week progresses.
Watchful of COVID-19
With Staal and Tyler Bertuzzi both on the protocol list, and DeKeyser just removed, the Wings are mindful of the situation.
“We’re under enhanced measures,” Blashill said of preventive measures around the locker room and meeting areas.
Teams such as Ottawa and the New York Islanders have had their seasons devastated because of team-wide outbreaks.
The Wings are being a positive frame of mind through these individual cases, and the win streak helps.
“When Bert got it, it was right before the game (Wednesday against Seattle), and I was a little worried about does that kind of deflate you a little bit when you get that kind of news right before a game?” Blashill said. “Our guys reacted really well to it. We’ve also won some games in a row, so the mood’s generally pretty good when you’ve won a bit.
“We’re all kind of crossing our fingers and hoping that nobody else ends up testing positive but we’ll see.”
Many Wings players have remarked how they saw positive steps taken last season during the NHL’s shortened schedule.
The Wings were 19-27-10, but other than a bad January because of a team-wide COVID outbreak, and a blip after the trade deadline, the Wings had a competitive, and vastly improved season.
“Belief was gained last year for sure, because we were in way more games than the year before,” Blashill said. “Outside of that one stretch where we were kind of the first team to have a ton of COVID cases and none of our games got canceled, we played shorthanded in that stretch, and we didn’t do well, outside of that we played pretty good hockey.
“There was an understanding of the importance of defending well, how it keeps you in games and you can find ways to win games. I would say on this current stretch it’s been similar.”
Predators at Red Wings
►Faceoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
►TV/radio: ESPN+/Hulu/97.1 FM
►Outlook: The Predators (13-10-1) were a mild surprise when they made the playoffs last season, and continue to defy predictions, with another strong start. … G Juuse Saros has done the bulk of work in net (2.37 GAA, .921 SVS), while C Matt Duchene (13 goals) and C Mikael Granlund (21 assists) have triggered the offense.