February 24, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Loss of Henrik Zetterberg throws another hurdle in front of Red Wings

Henrik Zetterberg, who is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season after undergoing back surgery, leads the team in scoring with 16 goals and 32 assists for 48 points. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)

Detroit — The race for the playoffs begins now for the Red Wings.

And they’ll be short a player, or a few.

When the Red Wings reconvene today for their first post-Olympics practice, they’ll do so without their Swedish players, who will be resting after playing in the gold medal game Sunday.

More importantly, the Red Wings will be without their captain, Henrik Zetterberg, who had back surgery last week.

Zetterberg likely will miss the remainder of the regular season, but could return in the playoffs — if the Red Wings are in the playoffs.

“It’s going to be hard,” Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar said. “We knew it was going to be hard even with Z here, and now it’s going to be harder.”

As much as Zetterberg’s offense will be missed, his leadership and character will be difficult to replace.

“His leadership in the locker room, in my opinion, will be an important loss,” assistant Bill Peters said. “It’s a substantial loss, let’s not kid ourselves. It’s your captain, your leading scorer, a point-a-game player.

“But now we’ll get our heads wrapped around it and move on and find a way to play where we can be successful as a group.”

With 24 games remaining, the Red Wings have a one-point lead on the Blue Jackets, Senators and Capitals, with the Hurricanes and Devils three back.

The Red Wings will bank on the return of a couple players, and the health of Pavel Datsyuk, to compensate for Zetterberg’s absence.

Datsyuk (knee) returned for the final two games before the break, then captained Russia during the Olympics.

Johan Franzen (concussion) could return for Wednesday’s game in Montreal, while Stephen Weiss (sports hernia) is expected to play one or two conditioning games in Grand Rapids before returning next week.

Franzen has played one game since Dec. 15 because of recurring concussion symptoms. Weiss last played on Dec. 10 before having surgery.

“Losing Z is a huge loss for us,” Weiss said. “I’m not thinking about coming in and replacing him. I have to come in and do my own thing and play my own game.

“But we’re going to need guys to step up and fill the void. I haven’t been able to show my best yet. I’m hoping to come back and have a strong push to the end.”