Jakub Vrana could return to lineup as Wings head into crucial game in standings

Detroit News

Washington, D.C. – Sure enough, Jakub Vrana had never been in the visitor’s locker room at Capital One Arena before Monday’s Red Wings’ practice.

Vrana played the first five seasons of his career in Washington and never ventured down the hallway.

“Never,” said Vrana after Monday’s practice. “This is the first time. I’ve never been in here.”

Vrana may get another look at it Tuesday night. Judging from practice, the Wings are looking to get Vrana into the lineup against the Capitals (7 p.m/BSD/The Ticket).

Vrana was used on different lines by coach Derek Lalonde, who would like to see Vrana in a game. The question, though, is who comes out in that situation.

“He probably had the most reps on the team,” said Lalonde of Vrana’s workload at practice. “We’ll see. We’d like to get him in. We’ve been trying to get him in, it’s just we’re stuck with who to take out. That (Pius) Suter (fourth) line was probably our best line the other day. It’s why you saw him on repped in on two different lines quite a bit.

“It’ll probably be a night, morning (of decisions and meetings) decision.”

The Wings recalled Vrana last week from Grand Rapids after Lucas Raymond went down with a lower-body injury. But with a healthy lineup otherwise, and the Wings putting together a win streak, there wasn’t a need or desire to break up a winning formula.

Vrana played the first two games of this regular season then entered the NHL/NHPA players assistance program which put him out of the Wings’ lineup for two months. The Wings waived Vrana shortly after he returned, but he was unclaimed, and was sent to Grand Rapids.

After a slow start, understandable given his lack of hockey-related activity, Vrana had six goals in 17 games in Grand Rapids but was was heating up before being recalled, scoring four goals in his last five games.

“The potential of him scoring is obviously intriguing,” Lalonde said. “It’s a good luxury problem to have.

“We’d like to think he can help us, but you never know what to expect. He hasn’t played in an NHL game for such a long time. It’ll be even tougher to get him in when Raymond comes back, so we’ll try here but we haven’t made that lineup decision.”

Vrana was excited about the chance to get into the lineup, but was hesitant until finding out what’ll happen Tuesday.

“That (would be) great,” said Vrana of possibly playing. “I got in this morning and we had some discussion, and we’ll discuss it more (Tuesday). There’s a possible chance, and we had a good practice and they got some things (to look at).

“It’s been some time, so I’m real excited. I’ve been training a lot, so it’ll be nice to at some point get the game going and that game feeling and just go. I’ve been playing (in Grand Rapids) so I’m excited to go and do it again.”

It’s ironic that Vrana could return while facing his former team for the first time since the Wings acquired Vrana (as the central piece) for Anthony Mantha at the 2021 trade deadline.

The Wings and Capitals had finished their season series by that point, and Vrana missed of last season after shoulder surgery. This season, Vrana has missed the previous two games being in the players assistance program.

Vrana was pleased to be back in Washington.

“For sure,” Vrana said. “It’s been a couple of years but I got some flashbacks for sure going to the rink and stepping on the ice here.”

The best memory would be the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals victory. But the way that core group, which Vrana likely thought he’d be part of for many years, came together left a positive memory with Vrana.

“We had a great group here, we won the Cup, (but) the most important thing is we stuck together as a team,” Vrana said. “We were like one family in there.”

The Capitals and Wings are clawing for one of the two wild-card sports in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals are two points ahead of the Wings (62-60) but have played three more games.

Washington was three points, and the Wings five, behind the final wild-card spot. Tuesday’s game will be crucial for the standings.

“It’s huge now, we’re in the hunt for the playoffs, and watching the games, the guys have been playing great,” Vrana said. “This game is really important for our group here. This time of year, you’re going to come in and prepare and give it all you have.”

Huge game

After winning the first three games of this road trip, then losing Saturday in Seattle, the five-game road trip would lose a bit of its luster with another loss.

But, overall, the Wings understand the importance of this game given the tight race in the standings.

“For the guys, this is what they’ve battled for, this is what they’ve wanted, important games late in the season and we’re right there,” Lalonde said. “I’m excited to see how we handle it.

“I give this group credit. We don’t talk about it (playoff push), we stand in the moment. Guys probably get annoyed at me for not talking about it but every time they just keep finding a way, keep batting and putting themselves in these situations. They’ve earned it and wanted to be here and they’ve worked themselves into being here.

“Let’s now try to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Lalonde was pleased to see the energy level at Tuesday’s practice given the long day of travel Sunday from Seattle.

“We had a ton of energy,” Lalonde said. “I’m guessing that has a little more to do with the excitement of a game like this. Some of these guys haven’t experienced this, this late in the season. There’s more excitement than tired legs.”

Ice chips

Raymond skated earlier Monday but will miss his sixth consecutive game. Lalonde was hopeful Raymond could return Thursday against the New York Rangers.

“It was a step in the right direction,” Lalonde said. “We’re hoping for Thursday. It’s the most optimism he’s had, being able to skate today.”

Lalonde smiled there other reasons Raymond wants to return soon.

“Be on track so he doesn’t want to mess with his bobblehead night Saturday (at Little Caesars Arena),” Lalonde said.

Dylan Larkin was named the Third Star in the NHL this week after earning eight points (four goals, four assists) in four games last week.

“He’s driven us offensively,” Lalonde said. “You can see the excitement in him for a little push here. He’s driven and led us by example.”

Red Wings at Capitals

▶ Faceoff: 7 p.m., Tuesday, Capitol One Arena, Washington, D.C.

▶ TV/radio: BSD/97.1

▶ Outlook: The Capitals (28-24-6) have lost four consecutive games and badly need wins to solidify their push toward the playoffs. … LW Alex Ovechkin (32 goals) will miss his fourth consecutive game, after the death of his father last week in Russia. … Washington lacks offense without Ovechkin, with C Evgeny Kuznetsov (36 assists, 45 points) the next consistent offensive threat.


Twitter: @tkulfan

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