Babcock hopes respite revitalizes Red Wings

Ted Kulfan The Detroit News

Detroit — Maybe the day off helped.

The Red Wings returned to the ice Wednesday for practice, hoping the day off Tuesday will have re-energized a team that's looked a bit sluggish since coming off a long West Coast trip the last week in February.

"It's always nice, I enjoyed the day off probably more than the players," said coach Mike Babcock, who has felt his team hasn't been quite right since returning from an eight-day road trip. "We haven't had the same kind of energy since we got back from the trip. As a group, whether it be the back end, or the power play, or the penalty kill or in net, we haven't been as good all together.

"It was good to get a day off and recharge."

Babcock mentioned after Monday's 5-2 victory over Edmonton the Red Wings have been fighting through some "blahs" and at junctures during the season, many teams will face those down points.

Players agreed the Red Wings haven't looked particularly sharp — but the results have still been there.

"If you've watched the game, you've seen not really the spark or jump that we normally have," Jimmy Howard said. "But at the same time, we still have been able to win a couple of games and keep ourselves in the race, so that's important as well."

Familiar faces

Darren Helm (oblique strain) completed approximately half of Wednesday's practice, while Johan Franzen (concussion) was in the locker room and in workout clothes joking with teammates.

Helm hasn't played since Feb. 28 but could be ready to play this weekend — the Red Wings are in Philadelphia (Saturday) and Pittsburgh (Sunday).

"I told him I was calling his name on the bench the other night, but he wasn't out there," said Babcock, who doesn't feel Helm will be ready for Thursday's game against Columbus "but shortly after that".

Franzen has been out since Jan. 6 but has been doing some light skating and the Red Wings haven't ruled out the chances of him returning this season.

Franzen declined to be interviewed, but did answer to whether he was feeling any better, "some days," he said.

Teammates were glad to see Franzen and son Eddie Bo around the locker room.

"Just to see him around the guys, at the rink, is a great indicator that he's feeling a little bit better," Niklas Kronwall said. "It's great to have him around."

Teammates are not asking how Franzen is feeling, or whether he's returning this season.

"At this point of the game you don't want to ask every day," Kronwall said. "In the beginning when he came down, everybody asked how he was feeling and for him, in that situation, it's just frustrating to answer that question every day for 25 different guys.

"We just let him take his time and when he's feeling better, we'll know."

Ice chips

Defenseman Alexey Marchenko (oblique strain), hurt Jan. 6, participated in the entire practice and should return soon.

"I probably need another practice," Marchenko said. "There's no reason to rush. It's pretty close."

… The Blue Jackets and Red Wings, who typically played eight times per season before realignment, play for the third and final time this season.

The Blue Jackets are on a 2-7-1 run, and have been decimated with injuries.

"But they still have some big guys up front, big strong defensemen, a good goalie and they still present a lot of problems," Kronwall said.

Blue Jackets at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Red Wings are 1-0-1 against the Blue Jackets. ... Columbus is sixth on the power play (21.3 percent) and 25th on the penalty kill (79.3 percent). ... Blue Jackets LW Nick Foligno (24 goals, 34 assists) and C Ryan Johansen (22 goals, 35 assists) pace the offense. ... Red Wings G Jimmy Howard will start.