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Odd Man Rush: Red Wings to put on more mileage in Sochi
By Michael Rushton, NHL Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It's funny how some people can be when they throw caution (and a lot of money) to the wind and splurge on a new, expensive car.
Every crack in the pavement, loose piece of gravel and speed bump becomes the enemy; every other driver on the road goes from anonymous stranger to a careless assassin hell bent on damaging your prized possession.
It is often that the overly-suspicious driver will find a safe haven for their new vehicle, usually a clean and safe spot in the garage under a tarp made of mithril.
The Red Wings are the proud possessors of a number of hockey equivalent skaters to an expensive car, having several talented, veteran players capable of carrying a club to the playoffs.
But unlike a brand-new Maybach, the Red Wings' horse power has plenty of mileage to go along with wear and tear.
Since the NHL started breaking for nearly three weeks every four years so its players can participate in the Winter Olympics has always been a source of debate. Owners hate to see their players put at risk for injury doing something that does not impact what they pay them to do: win a Stanley Cup.
But the diverse skaters of the league love to put aside their team logos to wear the colors of their country, so for now it stays.
Detroit is no different, with a number of players set to travel to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Games.
A healthy percentage of NHL players will get to rest their bodies over the next few weeks and the break should be welcomed by teams like the Red Wings, a veteran unit that is fighting a tight battle to secure its unheard of 23rd straight playoff appearance.
But while Detroit would love to park veterans such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in a luxury garage, management will instead watch as their classics put everything on the line for pride and a gold medal.
There is no doubt that the 35-year-old Datsyuk and 33-year-old Zetterberg can still perform at an NHL level well enough to make the Red Wings playoff contenders. But keeping both healthy has been a challenge and the duo won't get some needed rest due to the Olympics.
There was no way that Datsyuk wasn't going to play for Team Russia when his country is hosting the high-profile event. The forward missed 14 straight games with a lower-body injury before finally returning to action on Thursday in a win over Florida.
While the Red Wings were glad to see him back on the ice, one has to wonder if he rushed things just to show he was ready for the Olympics.
"Looks like everybody fast, ice is so small, goalie so big, net so small. I hope everybody slow down and be careful with my age," Datsyuk told Detroit's website of how the game looked after his extended absence.
Zetterberg was glad to see his teammate back, especially given the fact that he has battled a back issue this season that has left him out of the lineup at times.
Yet, Zetterberg will be skating with Team Sweden in Russia along with teammates Niklas Kronwall (33 years old) and Daniel Alfredsson (41).
Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard has had his struggles with consistency, in part due to separate knee and hip injuries that has plagued him at times, but his past resume was enough to park him on Team USA.
The Syracuse, N.Y. native has played better as of late, but that might not help Detroit all that much. After all, Howard could go cold during the Olympic break as it is a question of how much playing time he will actually get on a roster that also includes Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles.
That won't deter Howard, even if the conditions of Sochi are thought to be less than ideal.
"It means a lot," Howard recently told Detroit's website. "Every time you get to represent your country, no matter what stage it's on, it's an honor and it's a special moment not only for yourself but your family as well."
Detroit management might not agree. Not only will its players be at risk for injury during the game, but head coach Mike Babcock's focus over the next few weeks will not be on the Red Wings during the break. That is because he is the bench boss for Team Canada, which will be considered a disappointment if it didn't win gold.
With all those factors, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Red Wings open up the post-Olympic schedule in a funk. That's not good for a club that is holding just a one-point edge over two teams for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference heading into the NHL's final day of action on Saturday before shutting down for the Games.
Detroit has not missed the playoffs since the 1989-90 season, but these Winter Games could leave the Red Wings on the side of the road looking for a tow truck.
02/08 12:20:19 ET