Red Wings welcome back several familiar, needed faces with long road trip looming
Detroit — They’re about to embark on the longest road trip of the season, but at least the Red Wings will not be as shorthanded as they’ve been.
They’ll head out on a six-game, 11-day trip with five players who’ve been on the COVID-19 protocol list gradually filtering into the lineup.
Forwards Robby Fabbri and Adam Erne took part in Tuesday’s practice at Little Caesars Arena and appear set to rejoin the lineup Wednesday in Tampa. Forward Sam Gagner and defenseman Jon Merrill didn’t practice but will be eligible to play Wednesday if coach Jeff Blashill so chooses. And forward Filip Zadina will be eligible to play Friday; he didn’t skate Tuesday.
So, reinforcements are on the way for a Wings’ team that hasn’t won in six games.
“It was good to have those two guys (Fabbri, Erne) back, and the anticipation of the other guys coming back is a positive thing for us,” Blashill said in a Zoom chat with media after practice. “It gives you some energy and a little bit of confidence moving forward knowing guys will be getting back in the lineup.”
None of the players on the COVID-19 list have been available since the season-opening, four-game homestand, so conditioning and rust could be factors.
Blashill was quick to keep expectations tempered.
“You still have to go out and execute, and I would say, too, we have to make sure we temper the expectations of the guys coming back and they shouldn’t have to carry too much of the load considering they’ve been off for a while," he said.
“But it was good to have them back.”
Fabbri was excited to be back after several difficult days with the virus early.
“Watched a lot of shows and a lot of sports,” Fabbri said of his quarantining in a room in his house. “Pacing in my room, getting up and moving once I was getting my energy back. The worst part was just being locked in my room, but you have to do what you have to do.”
Fabbri said the first five days of having the virus were, by far, the worst.
“I got every symptom you hear about, it wasn’t too much fun,” Fabbri said. “A lot of sleeping and laying down and relaxing, then after Day 5, I started getting my energy back and the symptoms were gone.
“Obviously I wasn’t happy two games into the season getting this thing, without getting it (the previous 10 months) and being careful and doing all the things, and (now) getting it. But nothing you can do about it. I’m a good guy at staying positive and we knew it would be a risk going into this season and it’s something everyone is going through, not just professional athletes.
“But it was no joke for a couple of days.”
Fabbri, who started the season at center, was skating on a wing on a line with Dylan Larkin and Bobby Ryan at Tuesday’s practice.
Blashill said putting Fabbri on a wing gives him a little more time to get his conditioning level higher, but also enables Vladislav Namestnikov to stay at center, where Namestnikov has looked comfortable.
Blashill also said forward Tyler Bertuzzi (upper body) will not travel for the start of this trip, and is likely to miss all six games, so plugging Fabbri in Bertuzzi’s spot alleviates that loss.
“This gives us a chance to get him (Fabbri) going, and gives us a winger to play with Larkin in that spot,” Blashill said.
This long road trip doesn't begin easily, at all, given the powerful Lightning are first up for the Wings.
Tampa is without forward Nikita Kucherov (hip surgery) for the entire regular season, but his absence has enabled the Lightning to keep their roster together when, otherwise, they would have had serious salary cap concerns.
The Lightning look utterly capable of making another long Stanley Cup run this season.
"Without a doubt," Blashill said. "I know they're missing Kucherov, which is a huge loss, I get that for sure, but it allows them to not trade other players, so that keeps their roster real deep. When you go through their lineup, they've got lines that can beat you in a lot of different ways. They have high end talent up front.
"They have a great roster and a great team and that's why they won the Cup and been in the Finals in the past number of years and they're a tough challenge. With all that said, (if) we go down and play our best hockey, we'll put ourselves in position to win and you have to find ways to win."
Red Wings at Lightning
Faceoff: 5:30 Wednesday, Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
Outlook: The Wings visit the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning for a two-game series. ... Tampa (5-1-1) is off to a fine start, despite losing LW Nikita Kucherov (hip) for the regular season. ... The Lightning have dominated the Wings in recent seasons, winning 15 of the last 16 games.