The Detroit Red Wings face a roster and lineup crunch, and it could cost them a goaltender.
Jakub Vrana’s conditioning stint in the minors has been extended through this week, but Robby Fabbri is expected to play Wednesday — and in order for that to happen, the Wings have to make room for him.
“Something has to shake down here in the next 24-48 hours,” coach Derek Lalonde said after Monday afternoon’s practice.
Lalonde said he and general manager Steve Yzerman “have talked a lot on it over the last couple days and we’ll talk again,” but three players who are not likely to get the hook are young forwards Jonatan Berggren, Elmer Söderblom and Joe Veleno. All are waiver exempt, but their play has earned them a spot in the lineup.
“I do not see me taking one of those three out, at least on Wednesday,” Lalonde said.
It isn’t just picking a forward to come out of the lineup; the Wings need to activate Fabbri, who has spent the first three months of the season rehabbing from his second career surgery on his right knee. That puts a vise on the luxury of being able to carry three goaltenders, which the Wings have done since claiming Magnus Hellberg off waivers in November.
Ville Husso is expected to start Wednesday after being out sick. While Alex Nedeljkovic has struggled (and has not played since Dec. 8), he does have two seasons of good play to his credit, and he’s played two really good games this season. Hellberg has played five games with the Wings this season (2.58 goals-against average, .906 save percentage) but he has not stolen any games for them, and has looked shaky at times.
Vrana, who was reinstated Dec. 16 after two months in the players assistance program, is with the Grand Rapids Griffins, but counts against the 23-man roster. Originally the plan was for Vrana to play three games in the minors, but the decision was made to extend the engagement after he had no points and a minus-5 rating his first week.
“Jakub is going to use the full two weeks, which I think is good,” Lalonde said. “I think he felt good about his last game and he will play three more games this week. Ultimately Steve put it on him and what he wanted to do, and credit to him, he wanted to get some more touches down there.”
Tyler Bertuzzi (hand) and FIlip Zadina (leg) are also expected to return this month, though more toward the latter part of it.
This all comes as the Wings (16-12-7) have won three of their last four games. They host the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday, Florida Panthers on Friday, and are at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
“I will say this, I give the guys a ton of credit,” Lalonde said. “We’re sitting here above water on the season, with the amount of injuries we’ve had to prominent players, credit to our group and credit to Steve adding depth in the summer. Obviously it’s been tested, but every night, no matter what our roster was, I felt comfortable we could win on any night.
“This will be a little different because we had some rhythm. It’s unique in that we’re coming off a really good team effort, and we’re struggling to decide who that guy coming out is going to be. Whereas there is probably many a time on any given night, we would have had some easy decisions. It’s good that we’re getting some rhythm with the group, but yeah, there is going to be some change here.”
Adam Erne and Pius Suter are options to come out, though that would put the Wings short a penalty killer. Veleno could get some looks in that role, but he hasn’t fared well in prior auditions this season. Oskar Sundqvist plays both special teams.
While it forces the Wings to make changes to a winning roster, adding a scorer of Fabbri’s caliber is a welcome prospect.
“If Fabbri is available and ready on Wednesday, we want to play him,” Lalonde said. “He’s an important part of our team. So if that is the case, post practice tomorrow, we are going to have a tough decision.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.
Next up: Devils
Matchup: Red Wings (16-12-7) vs. New Jersey (23-11-3).
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday; Little Caesars Arena, Detroit.
TV/radio: TNT; WXYT-FM (97.1).