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Montreal – How long will it take for Pavel Datsyuk to be Pavel Datsyuk on the ice?

The fact Datsyuk has been skating regularly, limited by his separated shoulder but at least able to skate and maintain conditioning, should help Datsyuk reach his elite level soon.

His teammates agree that it should not take long. He returned to the lineup Tuesday night against the Canadiens.

"He's always magic when he's on the ice," said captain Henrik Zetterberg, Datsyuk's linemate. "When you see him in practice, you see him try something, and then a couple days later he'll try it in a game.

"It's a big boost for us. He's been skating pretty good in practice, it looks like he's ready to go. He's an important player for us."

Datsyuk made his regular-season debut in Montreal, skating on a line with Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

Datsyuk assisted on Zetterberg's goal, had his own goal waved off in the third period, and but no shots on net in 18 minutes 5 seconds of ice time.

It was Datsyuk's first game action since separating his shoulder in an exhibition Sept. 22.

What a healthy Datsyuk brings to the Red Wings lineup is one of the game's unique talents, a three-time Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) winner and offensive star, and gives the team a lot of flexibility.

"When he's healthy, he changes (the Red Wings lineup) a lot," coach Mike Babcock said. "There's a lot of things we can do with him. You can play him in the middle, play him on the wall, play him with Z (Henrik Zetterberg).

"When you've missed all of training camp and the start of the season, it'll take a while to get going. But we're optimistic he can help us."

What should help Datsyuk is the fact he's been able to practice and maintain his conditioning. Datsyuk has been able to skate in practice sessions, but hasn't faced any contact.

But timing, and simply getting into game shape, will take time.

"He looks like he's kept in really good shape and he's been able to skate, which has been big. He'll jump in and be ready to go," Abdelkader said. "Playing with those two (Datsyuk, Zetterberg), they create so much, they seem to know each other and they really read off each other. For myself, I just have to play my game."

Getting actual game action, in Datsyuk's estimation, is crucial to getting back to speed. Practice will only get a player so far.

"I need to play a game," Datsyuk said. "You always try to prepare, but once the game starts, it's a different level.

"It feels awesome (to return). In practice you can do a lot of things but once the game starts, it's different."

The Red Wings went 3-1-1 to open the regular season without Datsyuk, stressing a stingy defensive and workmanlike style. Datsyuk liked what he saw from his team.

"They did a good job, they played great," Datsyuk said. "They had a lot of (offensive) chances. I'm going to try to jump in and help."

Ice chips

Before the season began, most analysts believed the Bruins and Penguins would be the top teams in the East, capable of winning the Stanley Cup.

But the Canadiens are 6-1 after defeating the Red Wings 2-1 in overtime and appear to have a lineup capable of making a deep run.

"They can skate and they have good depth up front," Babcock said. "They have guys on the back end who can move the puck and be hard on you."

... Babcock, on Zetterberg's performance (goal, four assists) last week against the Maple Leafs: "He's our leader and he sets the tone. He was a great example. He said he had one of his worst games against Boston and came back and led by example. "

… Jimmy Howard (34 saves) arguably outplayed his Montreal counterpart Carey Price (27 saves) but didn't get the victory. Still, Howard enjoys the match-up against one of the premier goalies in the league.

"He's a great goalie, a great guy," said Howard, who met Price at the All-Star Game in Ottawa several years ago. "I can't say enough about him. It's a lot of fun going up against him."

Howard, though, had to make the tougher saves, and more of them, throughout the evening.

"Two good goalies going at it," Zetterberg said.

… One key statistic Babcock felt Montreal dominated was in the faceoff circle. The Canadiens had a 37-22 edge in faceoff victories.

"We lost too many faceoffs down the stretch," Babcock said. "That affected the outcome of the game."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

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