Jakub Vrana stoked a bit of excitement at practice, even though he’s not close to coming back and helping his Detroit Red Wings teammates.
They are focused on going into Pittsburgh on Friday and nipping a three-game skid that has left the Wings 18-19-6 and feeling a bit red-faced about their defensive game. The Wings expect to regain defenseman Gustav Lindstrom after a one-game injury absence but otherwise, it will be the same lineup that lost 8-5 to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday. Their carelessness with the puck was a season-low, and they must play smarter to have a chance against the Penguins.
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“We have to be more committed to the defensive side of the puck,” coach Jeff Blashill said Thursday. “And the balance for us is, we want to be able to make plays when we can make plays and we want to live another day when we have to live another day. That’s a balance we’re still learning.
“We had it graded as 21 chances against. We can’t do that against any team, but certainly, you can’t do that against Pitt or Toronto and have a chance to win. As I said to our guys, I think we had taken steps in right direction, and (Wednesday) we took a giant leap backwards. That doesn’t mean you don’t put your feet on the ground and start taking those steps back forward.”
Backup goalie Thomas Greiss is not expected to be available Friday or Saturday (at home against the Maple Leafs). He emerged from a 10-day stay in COVID-19 protocol Thursday but watched practice from the bench.
Those practicing included Vrana, who, in October, left the ice 10 minutes into training camp because of a shoulder injury that ended up requiring surgery. He has been cleared to shoot the puck, but he wore a noncontact jersey and that won’t change before the All-Star break that runs Feb. 3-7.
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“He’ll be in noncontact for a while,” Blashill said. “He’ll have a doctor’s appointment mid-February. Ultimately the surgeon dictates when he’s ready. There’s no way to know until he has that follow-up appointment and the surgeon says, ‘Yep, it looks like you’re ready for contact,’ or ‘You’re not.’
“What we want to do is get him as ready as possible for when he is able to get contact, so it doesn’t take as long to get back, and two, keep his spirits up by practicing with us. Being out there, while exciting for him and for us and for everybody, it doesn’t change the timeline. We’ll see. We get to mid-February, and it could be another month. We’re going to have to wait and see.”
Defenseman Troy Stecher, who has been out since Nov. 4 after wrist surgery, was also on the ice.
“It’s lonely when you’re just doing stuff on your own, and boring and frustrating,” Blashill said. “So for Vrana and for Stech to join practice is a boost and it gives them energy in their rehab.”
Vrana had 11 points in 11 games with the Wings last season, coming over from the Washington Capitals as part of the package in the Anthony Mantha trade. (Mantha played 10 games for the Caps this season before he was sidelined by shoulder surgery.) Vrana would have played either on the first line with Dylan Larkin or the second one with Pius Suter at camp; instead his absence opened a spot that rookie Lucas Raymond has grabbed with a stranglehold.
It’s too soon to pencil Vrana into the lineup, but it is fun to think about it.
“When he comes back, we’ll see what our lineup looks like,” Blashill said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of injuries and all that stuff. I know when he does come back, he’s a dynamic player, and hopefully he can add to our team. In the meantime, we’re focused on the group we have.”
Wings alumni will take on the Guardians Ice Hockey team at 2 p.m. Sunday at Suburban Ice Rochester. The charity game will benefit New Day Foundation for Families, a Michigan nonprofit dedicated to reducing the financial burden and emotional stress caused by cancer. Admission is $15 per person at the door, or in advance at FoundationForFamilies.org/hockey; children under 5 are free.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.