Wings get away from grind with desert respite

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Scottsdale, Ariz. — In a workaday world, they are sometimes call them mental health days, and they often seem just as important to getting the job done as the work itself.

On Tuesday, a day off in the desert sun — albeit a bit cool, given the El Nino winter in Arizona — brought a soothing time away from hockey for the Red Wings, at the halfway point of the regular season.

“I don’t know if our record’s good enough for me to tell you what I did yesterday,” joked coach Jeff Blashill, standing before the media outside the Coyotes practice facility, the Ice Den, as everyone took advantage of the warming sun and conditions less crowded than in the small dressing room.

Blashill and some of the Red Wings’ coaches headed to the White Sox spring training facility, on the rare day off.

“To be honest with you, yesterday in the morning we went as a coaching staff … and took batting practice at their facility and shagged fly balls. And it was like I was a 15-year-old kid.

“It was an awesome morning.”

At night, he sized up the Coyotes, in their game against the Oilers, in Glendale.

Nicklas Kronwall and six other Wings went to an outdoor center, saw the gorgeous desert and mountains and did some Old West stuff.

“We went on a little tour up in the desert on some UTVs (utility task vehicles) on some trails, and we also got a chance to shoot some guns and rifles and things like that.

“It was fun,” Kronwall said. “It was definitely something I hadn’t done before.”

Justin Abdlekader spent a bit of time poolside, drinking up the desert sun.

“I had a nice relaxing day by the pool,” Abdelkader, a physical and offensive leader of the team, who has 13 goals and nine assists. “For sure, it’s really important.

“You know, it’s a long season, and now we’re on the downswing. It’s past the halfway point. So, it’s been a nice road trip for us. Had a chance to spend a lot of time away from the rink with the guys, and that’s a positive.”

And even after their vigorous practice, when Kyle Quincey iced down his surgically repaired ankle, he moved an ice chest and bucket outside a back entrance of the rink, sat on the chest in the bright sun and plunged the foot into the ice-filled bucket.

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It provided a decent view of part of the McDowell Mountains, 20 miles northeast of Phoenix.

Tough whittling

After playing seven defensemen against the large, physical forward lines of the Kings, Blashill said he will return to the more standard 12 forwards and six defensemen today.

“As of this morning, Alexey Marchenko would be the guy out.”

Given Marchenko’s fine performance and considerable reliability on the back end, which already has resulted in Jakub Kindl playing in Grand Rapids, it was a tough decision, Blashill said.

“I would say certainly not just (based) on his play. I think all of them played good enough to stay in, but when you go from seven to six, one has to come out.”

Among the determining factors, Blashill said, is the pairings.

At practice, it was Kronwall with his old partner Jonathan Ericsson, Danny DeKeyser was with Quincey, and Brendan Smith with Mike Green.

“We just decided with that six, it gave us the best chance to win tomorrow night,” Blashill said.

Marchenko scored his first goal of the season against the Kings, in the loss on Monday.

‘Long time’ for Miller

The penalty kill, which began to improve when Drew Miller returned to the lineup, is without him again.

And Miller’s knee injury (torn meniscus) is likely to have him out, possibly well into February.

“Certainly, personnel matters in terms of the success of your specialty teams, and Millsie is an elite penalty killer,” Blashill said. “We know that.

“We refocused ourselves about three weeks ago, on working on some things in the penalty kill. And I think that’s shows in our game.”

Blashill complimented Abdelkader’s play on the kill and said Dylan Larkin has done well, in spot duty.

The coach said he did not have a specific time for Miller’s return.

“We know it’s going to be a long time. He’s on long term injured reserve. I can’t answer, beyond that.”

Red Wings at Coyotes

Faceoff: 9 p.m. EST Thursday, Gila River Arena, Glendale, Arizona

TV/Radio: FSPlus, 97.1, 1270 AM

Notes:Petr Mrazek will start in net for the Red Wings, as they seek to begin another winning streak and increase their points total to 10 out of a possible 12 in six straight on the road. The Wings continue to look for offense, entering the game with five fewer goals for than against (112-107). … The Coyotes, under coach Dave Tippett, are playing better than expected. Rookie sensation Max Domi ended a 15-game scoring drought Tuesday with a hat trick. The Coyotes lead the NHL in hat tricks with five. Domi is second on the team in goals, with 13. Captain Shane Doan has 15.