Abdelkader returns to Red Wings’ victory party

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Justin Abdelkader

St. Louis – Justin Abdelkader picked a good arena to make his return to the Red Wings lineup.

The Scottrade Center in St. Louis has provided some good moments for Abdelkader, who scored the game-winning goal here in Michigan State’s 3-1 win over Boston College in the 2007 NCAA championship game.

“It’s always nice to come back for sure,” said Abdelkader after Thursday’s morning skate, where the Red Wings prepared for the St. Louis Blues. “Extra special.

“It’s always good to come back to this building. This is where we won our national championship. I have pretty good memories here and enjoy playing here.”

Abdelkader missed Detroit’s last two games with a “middle-body” injury.

Which, incidentally, is what Thomas Vanek was bothered with Thursday and missed the game.

Vanek is considered day-to-day - which Abdelkader was.

It’s never easy sitting out, but seeing his teammates get on a five-game win streak made it bearable for Abdelkader.

“We’ve been winning so that always makes it more enjoyable,” Abdelakder said. “But it’s never easy to watch.”

There was a bit of a nostalgic feeling returning to St. Louis for the Red Wings, an old Central Division rival where the Red Wings would visit four times per season. Those days are gone, with the Red Wings in the Eastern Conference. This will be Detroit’s only trip to St. Louis this season.

“This is an old division rival for a lot of us in here and we know how these guys play,” Abdelakader said. “It’s always really tight, no room out there, they’re always low-scoring games. We have to make sure to get through the neutral zone and eliminate turnovers.”

Wings' Ott a 'character,' sticks up for teammates

The Red Wings have won the last four times they visited Scottrade Center, two of them in overtime.

“They’re always really tight games,” Abdelkader said. “We’ve played well in here, even the losses have been close. It’s always a real good team, a heavy team that likes to grind you, a real good test for us.”

‘We believe in both’

Goal scoring is up and save percentages are down, generally speaking, around the NHL in the opening couple weeks.

But the Red Wings’ goaltending duo of Petr Mrazek (who started against the Blues) and Jimmy Howard have been exceptions to the rule.

Both Mrazek (.917 save percentage, 2.82 GAA in five games) and Howard (.984, 0.50, two games) are off to good starts.

“If you go through the league right now, it doesn’t take a long look to realize how important it is to have depth at every position, and goaltending is critical with that,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “They’ve both played excellent. The five games (streak) -- part of that is we’ve had excellent goaltending.

“When you have excellent goaltending, you don’t see some mistakes. When you have poor goaltending, every mistake is glaring.

“We believe in both of those guys. We believe both will have an impact on our year and hopefully they can keep getting better every day and have similar results.”

Ott's No. 800

Steve Ott was returning to St. Louis Thursday, where he was a key presence on the Blues for the last two and half seasons, but it was also game No. 800 in Ott’s NHL career.

Blashill feels Ott has been a big contributor to the Red Wings in the early going.

“He brings energy to the locker room; we needed some of that energy,” Blashill said. “He’s a fun guy to be around. He brings camaraderie and that’s a real critical part to winning.

“On the ice he’s been a real good, complete player. He wins face-offs, on the left side especially, he’s a good penalty killer, and he also provides energy in physicality but he’s accountable defensively.

“Those are rarities in the league. He’s had a real good impact so far.”