Detroit – Lucas Raymond had never missed an NHL game until not dressing for the Feb. 11 game against Vancouver.
Raymond collided with Ben Chiarot during practice the day before and hasn’t been available since with a lower-body injury, ending a streak of 132 consecutive games played.
Raymond has been sitting and watching games from the press box or locker room since. It hasn’t been easy.
“More nerve-racking to be watching,” said Raymond, who practiced Friday but may not be quite ready to play Saturday against Tampa Bay (8 p.m./BSD/The Ticket). “I’ve never been hurt before so it’s a little different experience. It’s a lot of nerves sitting up there and you can’t control anything. But the boys have been playing amazing, which makes it a lot easier.”
Raymond has found view from upstairs, down to the ice, rather unique.
“All of a sudden you see everything,” Raymond said. “I wish I had that (kind of) vision (on the ice).”
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The Wings are 6-1-0 without Raymond in the lineup during this stretch, but make no mistake, Raymond is missed and will play as soon as he’s ready.
“I don’t know if he’ll be ready (Saturday) but it’s a step in the right direction,” said coach Derek Lalonde of Raymond practising. “The goal was to get him a full practice, fully involved, with contact and he did that.
“Hopefully we’ll have him available.”
Many players find playing a game much easier than watching, and Raymond now counts himself in that group.
“When you’re playing, you’re in it all the time and when you’re watching, it’s out of your control which is tougher,” Raymond said.
Being able to skate the last few days, Raymond put himself in the day-to-day range at this point. He mainly substituted into the fourth line Friday, a likely sign he’s still a bit away from logging heavy minutes on the top line.
“Right now we’re just seeing how it feels,” Raymond said. “It’s about being comfortable out there and being able to play at 100 percent. We just have to wait and see how things progress.”
The fact the Wings have been winning during Raymond’s absence has made life a bit easier for him watching. But at the same time, Raymond wants to join in the fun the group is having.
There is no comparison between this year’s Wings’ locker room compared to previous years, where the approaching trade deadline meant players were going to be traded and the playoffs were a pipe dream.
It’s a much different atmosphere now, with March approaching.
“Just the way everyone is buying in, that’s a huge part of it,” said Raymond of what is spurring the success. “We’re right now a team not a lot of people want to play against. That comes from just hard work and being a good group in here.
“It’s great, it makes you want to get back quicker because the guys are playing great out there sticking up for each other. It’s a lot of fun to watch. Playoffs are a thing we want to get to this year. We’re sticking with our game plan and confident in ourselves.”
It’s still early to call it that, but this recent West Coast trip might turn out to be a sort of turning point to the Wings’ season.
Five games in nine days, actually going from West Coast to East Coast (Tuesday in Washington), provided opportunities to become a closer team while providing confidence and good times with the winning.
“You get five (wins) in a row and you get those happy flights going and one of the best parts about the NHL are those flights after big wins,” center Andrew Copp said. “String five of them together and you start to look at the playoffs and we might be able to find ourselves in the mix, and here we are in a (playoff) spot a week later.
“I don’t know if there’s a certain turning point but we’ve come to knowing we can win on any given night.”
Lalonde doesn’t feel there’s much difference from the way the Wings are playing currently, as to maybe often times earlier in the season.
“The underlying numbers are almost similar, it’s the same amount of chances against, and we’re still defending well,” Lalonde said. “The difference is we’re managing our game much better. Our special teams is much improved. Our goaltending is at another level.
“I don’t know if our game is a whole lot different but we’re just finding ways to flip some of these tight games.”
The Wings’ lineup, mostly among the forwards, has become a revolving door. Jakub Vrana, Dominik Kubalik, Filip Zadina and Jonatan Berggren have all been healthy scratches of late, but each has returned to the lineup with impressive games.
Lalonde likes the idea of having that kind of depth, but there is a lot of thought that goes into who is the odd man out.
“Ultimately it’s on me,” Lalonde said. “But we will talk as a staff, and there are different things that go into Sometimes it’s play, sometimes it’s accountability. These are tough decisions that we are happy to have right now.”
… Lalonde wants the Wings to be a little more loose than they were Thursday against the New York Rangers.
“We were a little nervous and tight, which surprised me a little bit,” Lalonde said. “I want the guys to be comfortable in these types of situations. Maybe they get home and hear it a little bit more. It was a different vibe but not in a bad way.”
Lightning at Red Wings
▶ Faceoff: 8 p.m., Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
▶ TV/radio: BSD/97.1
▶ Outlook: The Lightning (36-17-4) are coming off a 6-5 overtime loss Thursday against Buffalo…The Lightning are 1-1-2 in their last four games….The Wings are 2-0-0 this season against Tampa…RW Nikita Kucherov (60 assists, 81 points), C Brayden Point (34 goals) and G Andrei Vasilevskiy (27-14-2, 2.60 GAA, .916 SVS) headline a veteran, talented roster.