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Kids put veterans on spot for their jobs

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Only three more exhibition games left, and jobs on the Red Wings roster could be available.

It's time for veterans to pick up the pace, too, before the Oct. 9 regular-season opener.

So, coach Mike Babcock will be watching closely beginning tonight against the Penguins.

"We have a lot of kids who look like they might be able to play here," Babcock said. "We just keep watching, it's three games against good competition, and we'll see.

"They've (the youngsters) been good, real good. They've been honest in their approach. In the end, you still have to win a job and we'll see the next couple of days."

Babcock feels there are five defensemen from minor league affiliate Grand Rapids — Mattias Backman, Nick Jensen, Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul — who could eventually play in the NHL.

Whether any of them are on the Red Wings roster Oct. 9 remains to be seen.

"We have guys coming," Babcock said. "We want some push from the bottom. We have that (with those five young defensemen)."

The injury to Pavel Datsyuk (shoulder separation) and Daniel Alfredsson's indecision regarding retirement could open a spot for a forward such as Mitch Callahan or Landon Ferraro, both of whom are out of minor league options.

But beginning against the Penguins, Babcock wants to see more out of his veterans in theseexhibition games.

"I'd like some of the veteran guys to get up to speed for sure," Babcock said.

Big week

Henrik Zetterberg said he talked with Alfredsson a couple of days ago and Alfredsson could be close to a decision on whether to return.

Alfredsson, 41, is expected to finalize a decision next week.

"He says he feels better," Zetterberg said. "This week will be an important week and hopefully he'll be with us next week."

Zetterberg had similar back problems last season, underwent surgery, and can sympathize with what Alfredsson is going through.

"It was a wise decision for him to take the time now, do his rehab, and really give it a last shot," Zetterberg said. "Hopefully it'll work."

Standout Smith

It was only an exhibition game, but Brendan Smith's play Monday has to excite the Wings.

Smith played 25:57, blocked three shots, and played as soundly and efficiently as he ever has.

"Smith was the best defenseman on the ice, bar none, on both teams, which is great," Babcock said. "I've never been able to say that about Smitty in an NHL game. Ever. They (the Maple Leafs) had NHL players playing. I thought Smitty was great."

Nyquist returns

Gustav Nyquist (knee) returned to practice and is hopeful of playing this week — maybe against Pittsburgh tonight.

Nyquist suffered a knee-on-knee collision with Boston defenseman Dougie Hamilton in Saturday's game and there was fear Nyquist was going to misstime.

But the knee has progressed daily.

"I felt better today, better than yesterday," Nyquist said. "It feels good. I'm really happy about it."

Darren Helm (broken nose) and Jonathan Ericsson (hip flexor) both are day to day.

"I'm going to wait until (this) morning and then I'll know," said Babcock, as to whether Helm and Nyquist will play. "E had all his equipment on and I saw him out there (on the ice). The next think I know, he was gone."

Ice chips

Babcock will start Jimmy Howard in net against Pittsburgh, then Jonas Gustavsson (Friday) and Petr Mrazek (Saturday).

… Babcock, on team speed this season: "We were at a snail's pace last year at the start of the year. I didn't even like watching us at practice, we were so slow. We think we're really going to be able to fly (this season)."

Penguins at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 Wednesday, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV/Radio: FSD/97.1.

Notes: The Red Wings defeated Pittsburgh 2-1 in the exhibition opener for both teams. … Pittsburgh will be without C Evgeni Malkin (undisclosed injury).