The Detroit Red Wings may have found an answer to their injury woes in net.
It’s possible Evgeni Nabokov(notes) will be on the roster as early as Saturday, when the Red Wings try to avoid dropping three straight at home to the well-rested Chicago Blackhawks for the first time in 10 years.
Detroit won’t have veteran goaltender Chris Osgood(notes) until March as he recovers from a recent hernia surgery, and starter Jimmy Howard(notes) has been hampered by a bruised right knee. That led to the Red Wings signing Nabokov to a one-year deal this week.
The 35-year-old netminder, who played the past 10 seasons in San Jose, still needs to clear waivers because he started this season in Russia’s KHL. Nabokov has won 293 games but suffered four straight losses to the Blackhawks in last season’s Western Conference finals.
The Red Wings (29-12-6) might be able to use his help after giving up 19 goals during a 2-2-1 stretch. Expected to miss two weeks, Howard returned after a two-game absence Thursday night in St. Louis but couldn’t hold on to a three-goal lead before Detroit won 4-3 in overtime.
“I don’t need anyone to push me. I push myself. I practice hard,” Howard said after the game when asked about Nabokov. “It’s out of my hands. If he can help us, he can help us.”
The Red Wings also are without star winger Pavel Datsyuk(notes), Tomas Holmstrom(notes), Dan Cleary, Brad Stuart(notes) and Mike Modano(notes). Coach Mike Babcock said Datsyuk, Cleary and Holmstrom could return after next week’s All-Star break.
Without those players, the Red Wings might have trouble against the Blackhawks, who are 4-0-1 in their last five. Chicago, 10 points behind first-place Detroit in the Central Division, also has had five days off since a 6-3 win over Nashville on Sunday night.
“It’s great to have a layoff, but we want to be at the level we were at before that,” defenseman Brian Campbell(notes) said. “We start right away when the pucks drop in Detroit, not wait a period or a period and a half. That’s the biggest factor. We really need to gear up.”
The Blackhawks (25-18-4) split a pair of home games with the Red Wings earlier this season, winning the most recent 4-1 on Dec. 17. Tomas Kopecky(notes) scored twice against his former team in that game and Corey Crawford(notes) stopped 29 shots to outduel Howard.
“The last time we played Detroit, we found a way to win against them, but we all know it’s a different game in their building,” captain Jonathan Toews(notes) said. “We have to play a real smart game if we want to come out on top.”
Chicago is 1-3-2 in its last six road games but won its final two contests at Joe Louis Arena during last season’s Stanley Cup-winning campaign. Howard was in net for both of those losses and is 2-2-1 with a 2.94 goals-against average all-time versus the Blackhawks.
Chicago hasn’t won three straight in Detroit since Jan. 13-Nov. 27, 2000, and could look to Crawford, who has a 1.51 GAA in his two games against Detroit.
Crawford is 7-2-1 with a 1.58 GAA in his last 10 starts, including back-to-back shutouts earlier this month.