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Wings’ Pulkkinen finding his scoring touch

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Forward Teemu Pulkkinen, shown here during an exhibition game, scored a pair of third-period goals Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Raleigh, N.C. — To stay in the lineup and remain in the NHL, Teemu Pulkkinen has to score goals.

He’ll never be confused with the defensive stoppers in the game, or make a list of the biggest or ferocious players in the NHL.

But Pulkkinen can score goals, as he did twice Saturday in the third period of the Red Wings’ 4-3 victory over Carolina.

And that’s a pretty important skill to have. And as long as Pulkkinen keeps scoring goals, he and the Red Wings are happy.

“That’s why I’m here, my strength is to play in the offensive zone and score goals,” said Pulkkinen, who triggered the Red Wings rally with those two early third period goals. “It was nice to get a couple of goals. If you don’t get goals you might get frustrated.

“It was nice to get a couple and now move on.”

Generously listed at 5-foot-11, 183-pounds, Pulkkinen isn’t going to outmuscle many opponnents, nor does his speed and quickness supremely jump off the chart.

But Pulkkinen has the uncanny instinct that goal-scorers understand of knowing where to be on the ice.

Such was the case with the two goals Saturday, a redirect and a fortunate bounce that landed directly in front of Pulkkinen, which he capitalized on both.

“Lucky bounces,” said Pulkkinen of his timely goals. “I barely hit (the first one) and second was a lucky one, too. But it makes it way easier (when scoring that way).”

And that know-how, along with a booming shot, is a nice combination to have.

“He finds ways to score goals,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he knows where to be and he knows how to score goals and that’s pretty nice to have in this game.”

Before this season, Pulkkinen had scored five goals in 34 career NHL games, never able to gain considerable traction in brief call-ups to the NHL.

Out of minor league options, Pulkkinen made the roster of training camp but how much he was going to play and how large of a role he’d have were up in the air.

Coach Jeff Blashill, who also coached Pulkkinen in Grand Rapids, has stated a key to Pulkkinen staying in the lineup is to keep producing offensively.

“He’s a goal scorer, that’s what he does,” Blashill said. “He finds ways to score goals. I’ve seen him score a lot of different ways.

“Some guys bring other things to the table, that’s what he brings. It’s important for him to score and obviously he did that (Saturday).”

Still, Blashill said it’s vital Pulkkinen remain committed to playing a 200-foot game, meaning being committed on the defensive end as well.

Pulkkinen has seem intent on rounding out his game this season, and displaying the same work ethic defensively — and off the ice —as he does on his with his offensive game.

“We have a lot of great depth at forward,” said Pulkkinen, talking about the competition for playing time. “We (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Darren) Helm out (with injuries) so everybody has to show up every night working and skating hard and doing their best.

“There are no guaranteed spots here. I try to work hard on and off the ice and it’s always nice to get a couple of goals to get your confidence up.”

Winged wheel shuffle

In an effort to ignite his tired team Saturday, Blashill shuffled his lines – and the strategy contributed to the comeback.

Pulkkinen wound up playing with Dylan Larkin and Tomas Tatar, and the trio were consistently dangerous.

“We weren’t skating well enough and playing to our capabilities,” said Blashill of the opening 40 minutes. “In the third period we started skating. We juggled the lines and I don’t know if it had an impact but as individuals we played a lot better.

“Z’s line (Zetterberg, Larkin, Justin Abdelkader) was one that was going but we felt we had to get other combinations going.”

Larkin centered the line with Tatar and Pulkkinen and overall had another fine game as Blashill continues to trust Larkin, 19, in key situations.

“We didn’t move him to center because he was struggling.” Blashill said. “The thing that I like about Larks is that he can do both (play center, wing) at a young age and that’s important.

“The age doesn’t matter to me. Experience and resumes matter, I know Henrik Zetterberg is cool under pressure and he’s built that over time, but age doesn’t matter. The guys who give a chance to win are the ones that I’m going to play in situations.”

Penalty killers

The Red Wings penalty kill was crucial in Saturday’s first period keeping the game scoreless and giving the Red Wings time to get on track.

“That was huge for our team,” said goaltender Petr Mrazek of the penalty killing. “The guys did a heckuva job in front of the net. The one-timers, they went out of the shooting lanes when they couldn’t get there so I could see the puck and stop it. They made some big blocks.”

Blashill singled out Drew Miller for his work, especially on a 5-on-3 in the first period.

“Drew Miller is an elite penalty killer, with elite defensive smarts,” Blashill said. “That’s why he’s a big part of this hockey club.”

Ice chips

Playing a back-to-back during the first week of the season isn’t easy, and the Red Wings’ tired legs the first 40 minutes was proof.

“You’re basically playing once a week (during the exhibition season) and then all of a sudden you’re playing two days in a row (in different cities),” Zetterberg said. “It’s a little different obviously but it’ll get easier.”

…Zetterberg, on the four goals in two games start by Abdelkader: “Those kind of players, you don’t see them that often in the league – big, strong guys that really can do everything and score goals, too.”