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Centers click as unit as Wings blaze past Flyers

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings beat the Flyers 5-2 with a line made up of three centers, two of whom are often on gurneys in the M*A*S*H unit, and a third who has been there too much for his liking lately.

So unusual is the combination, Mike Babcock pronounced himself undecided after the game about whether Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss and Darren Helm will remain as a unit, despite accounting for three of the Wings' goals.

They also did it with their best weapon: speed

By and large, against a team comprised of big players, who tried to out-muscle them, they were quicker and mostly disciplined about positional play.

The Red Wings recovered from a halting start Thanksgiving eve to bust the game wide open in the second period, with three goals, to take a 4-1 lead. They were a bit "too careful," according to Babcock, in the third period, and nearly let Philadelphia back into the party.

But they prevailed.

And what about the three center men?

When it was all over, the concept got a chuckle out of Weiss, whose star-crossed season is suddenly, almost spectacularly, on the right course — after two other seasons in which he played only sparingly, too, all because of a laundry list of injuries.

"You know, it's a lot easier with him in the middle," he said, nodding towards Datsyuk across the room.

"I think he can take care of mistakes Helmer and I make.

"Certainly, as a first game together, it wasn't anything spectacular, in terms of possession, or anything. But we got some bounces."

Weiss scored the Wings' first goal Wednesday, after garnering two Monday night, against the Senators.

More noted in his career as a playmaker — indeed, the career assists leader for the Panthers — Weiss also picked up an assist on the second of two goals for Datysuk, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with a re-injured groin.

Helm, who startlingly has appeared in all 22 games for the Red Wings this season after a flurry of afflictions in recent years, garnered two assists.

"It's a good line," Datsyuk said. "We are three centers and we know how to play defense. Hopefully, it's going to help us in the future.

"I feel good. I did not play in many games, and I feel a little like I don't have enough energy.

"I'm so happy for Weiss. He worked off ice, so hard, and I'm so happy he's playing and I hope he keeps going forward.

"He is a good example. I would love to do everything like that. But I don't want to miss any games, anymore."

Babcock was pleased.

"Pavel, Helm and Weiss were obviously the difference for us, today," he said. "I thought it was a good win for us.

"Pavel looked good. And Helmer gives those guys good legs. I thought Weiss went to the net, again. And, you know, you've got to give him credit. Holy cow, he's got three goals here, so that's good for us."

Restoring quality players like Datsyuk and Weiss to the lineup makes for a far deeper team, with more scoring alternatives from which Babcock can chose.

"We weren't very concerned about matchups," he said. "We just rolled out the door.

"So, you know, I haven't been like that for a long time. So that was a real positive."

But asked if the trio would remain together, the coach known for tinkering with lines until he finds the perfect matches — sometimes more than once or twice in the same period — would not commit to it.

"You know, I have no idea," Babcock said. "I go into warm-up every night and I've got a line up right there and if they don't feel like they're playing any good, then I fix it."

The Red Wings' other winning ingredient was on display, although not continually throughout the night.

Face with a lineup filled with large defensemen, like Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossman and big forwards, like Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier, the Wings talked after the morning skate about the need to bring their vaunted speed and positional play.

"They always play tough," said one of the Wings' large bodies, Justin Abdelkader, of the Flyers. "They're big bodies that get to the net. We've got to make sure we box out.

"Against a big team, we don't want them wearing on our D, and grinding down low. That's why we have to make sure we get off to a good start. Get the pucks down deep. Limit our turnovers.

And, good positioning. Establishing position before they can get around your net."

Riley Sheahan, who also brings size with his game, said the issue was discussed in preparing for the game.

Despite his own brawn, Sheahan said quickness is a key ingredient for beating the big guys.

"Their size, definitely got to be aware of it," he said. "You kind of have to make sure you've got your feet moving, especially with their big defensemen. Try not to let them get you and pin you in the corners.

"I think if we keep our feet moving, we've got a lot of guys that can skate, and I think if we can move on the first touch, we'll have an advantage over them."

And so the Red Wings did, for long stretches of the game.

They started a bit slowly and ran into some penalty trouble. But Babcock credited Howard with being stalwart and said, "We were on our heels a little bit, but we got going."

Tomas Jurco also scored for the Wings, breaking a 1-1 tie at 10:12 of the second period.

Henrik Zetterberg added an empty-net goal after the Flyers made it 4-2 in the third period.

With some key players, in the scheme of things, restored to the lineup, the Red Wings —already off to an 12-5-5 start, begin looking like an even greater threat to other teams at the top of the Eastern Conference, as the season moves into the second quarter.

"Well, like I keep trying to tell them every day, I think we've got a chance to become a good team. You know, we're not there yet, by any means. But we have a chance to keep getting better…

"And we've just got to keep getting better. I know they don't hand anything out with just 22 games played, in the league."