Healthy Wings face robust Kings outfit
Detroit — The Red Wings, who are a point out of the playoffs, play a hot Kings team tonight with two players, Brad Richards and Brendan Smith, returning to the lineup.
The Kings are winners of three consecutive games and 7-3 in their last 10. After a bumpy start to the season, they are on top of the Pacific Division with 24 points, at 12-6.
That is four points better than the Wings, who are 9-8-2 as they reach about the quarter pole of the season, playing today in their 20th game.
The reappearance of the 35-year-old Richards after 13 games out with a bad back resulted in rookie Andreas Athanasiou returning to Grand Rapids.
It also allows Coach Jeff Blashill to reset the lines.
Blashill said he intends to play Pavel Datsyuk with Richards and Teemu Pulkkinen, and Riley Sheahan with Gus Nyquist and Tomas Tatar.
Nyquist is on pace for 28 goals and Pulkkinen and Tatar for 20, through 19 games of the season.
"Sheahan's really accountable, defensively," Blashill said. "He's a big body, which I think is important, here, against the Kings, obviously.
"They have had success," he said of Sheahan, Nyquist and Tatar as a unit of forwards. "I thought in Edmonton they were good. At different times we've played them together, they've been good.
"They're, all three of them, I think, real good in the offensive zone. They're good rolling around in the O-zone."
Blashill said the chance to play Pulkkinen with two considerable playmakers, Datsyuk and Richards, might be a significant boost for the 23-year-old Finn with the big shot, who continues a young forward's frequent quest: Constantly seeking open ice.
"Obviously, he's a guy who can put the puck in the net," Blashill said. "I believe he's a guy who can score on any goalie in the world on his shot, because of how good a shot it is.
"I think `Richie' and `Pav' both can obviously score, but they are both elite passers of the puck, for sure. So, we hope it's a good combination, but we won't know until we get out there and playing."
That deployment allows for the restoration of two other lines: Henrik Zetterberg with Justin Abdelkader and Dylan Larkin; and Luke Glendening centering Darren Helm and Drew Miller.
The return of Smith results in Jakub Kindl as a healthy scratch, with 23-year-old Alexey Marchenko remaining in the lineup as Smith's partner. Of the first 20 games of the season, Kindl (two goals, three assists, plus-three) will have played in 17 and will be a healthy scratch in three.