Jakub Vrana (shoulder) on track to join the Detroit Red Wings in February

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Jakub Vrana has been stirring up some excitement in practice, even though he’s nowhere near coming back and helping his Detroit Red Wings teammates.

They’re focused on getting to Pittsburgh on Friday and snuffing out a three-game skid that left the Wings 18-19-6 and feeling a little red with their defensive play. The Wings expect to reunite with defenseman Gustav Lindstrom after a one-game injury absence, but otherwise it will be the same roster that lost 8-5 to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday. Puck neglect was a season low, and they need to play smarter to stand a chance against the Penguins.

[ LISTEN UP:Jeff Blashill says Red Wings have to do this to take strides forward ]

“We need to be more committed to the defensive side of the puck,” coach Jeff Blashill said Thursday. “And the balance for us is that we want to be able to make plays when we can make plays and we want to live another day when we have to live another day. It’s a balance that we’re still learning.

“We had 21 chances against. We can’t do that against any team, but certainly you can’t do that against Pitt or Toronto and have a chance of winning. Like I told our guys , I think we had taken steps in the right direction, and (Wednesday) we took a giant step back. That doesn’t mean you don’t put your feet on the ground and start doing those steps back.”

Backup goaltender Thomas Greiss is not expected to be available Friday or Saturday at home against the Maple Leafs. He emerged from a 10-day stint in COVID-19 protocol on Thursday but watched practice from the bench.

Those practicing included Vrana, who walked off the ice 10 minutes into training camp due to a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery. He was cleared to shoot the puck, but he was wearing a non-contact jersey and that won’t change until the all-star break which runs Feb. 3-7.

[I’LL BE BACK:Jakub Vrana vows he’ll play for Wings this season]

“He will be out of contact for a while,” Blashill said. “He will have a doctor’s appointment in mid-February. Ultimately, the surgeon dictates when he’s ready. There’s no way of knowing until he has that appointment. follow-up and the surgeon says yes, it looks like you’re ready for contact, or you’re not.

“What we want to do is prepare him as much as possible for when he can get in touch so that he doesn’t take so long to come back, and two, keep his spirits up by training with us. Being there, while exciting for him and for us and for everyone, doesn’t change the schedule. We’ll see. We’re coming to mid-February, and it could be another month. We’re going to have to wait and see.”

Defender Troy Stecher, absent since Nov. 4 due to wrist surgery, was also on the ice.

“It’s lonely when you’re doing things on your own, and boring and frustrating,” Blashill said. “So for Vrana and for Stech to join the practice is a boost and it gives them energy in their rehabilitation.”

Vrana had 11 points in 11 games for the Wings last season, coming from the Washington Capitals as part of Anthony Mantha’s trade-forfeit return. (Mantha played 10 games for the Caps this season before being sidelined by shoulder surgery.) Vrana would have played either on the front line with Dylan Larkin or on the second line with Pius Suter in camp. ; instead, his absence opened up a spot that rookie Lucas Raymond grabbed with a stranglehold.

It’s too early to put Vrana on the lineup, but it’s fun to think about.

“When he comes back, we’ll see what our roster looks like,” Blashill said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of injuries and all that. I know when he comes back he’s a dynamic player and I hope he can add to our squad. In the meantime, we’re focused on the group we have.”

CHARITY GAME

The Wings alumni will face the Guardians ice hockey team at 2 p.m. Sunday at Suburban Ice Rochester. The charity game will benefit the New Day Foundation for Families, a Michigan nonprofit dedicated to reducing the financial burden and emotional stress caused by cancer. Admission is $15 per person at the door or in advance at www.FoundationForFamilies.org/hockey; children under 5 are free.

Contact Helene St. James at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Learn more about the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. His book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph books. Personalized copies available via his email.

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