Wings still banking on Richards to produce

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Brad Richards

Detroit -- The statistics don’t jump out, and maybe haven’t been what Brad Richards and the Red Wings would have expected at this point of the season.

But coach Jeff Blashill has faith Richards can be a productive player these final weeks of the regular season.

So much so, that Richards is centering the second line between Tomas Tatar and Dylan Larkin.

Blashill now has Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg alongside Justin Abdelkader, while the third line has Andreas Athanasiou centering Tomas Jurco and Gustav Nyquist.

Luke Glendening centers the fourth line between Darren Helm and Riley Sheahan.

“Dylan can self-generate a lot of times regardless of who he’s playing with,” said Blashill of his new lines. “But it had more to do with my belief in Brad Richards is a second-line center. He did it last year on a Stanley Cup-winning team (Chicago).

“With Hank and Pavel, it gives us a 1-2 punch up the middle that is a real important piece. We wanted to, in (general manager) Ken Holland’s words, get 2 percent better. By putting them together, we hoped that synergy would create a little more offense and also have a real good No. 2 center in Brad Richards, who can also be accountable defensively.”

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Signed to a one-year, $3 million contract as an unrestricted free agent last summer, Richards has 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 39 games, with a plus-7 rating.

Blashill believes there are potential match-up strengths for his team with the current line combinations.

“Who you’re playing against matters a ton,” Blashill said. “If Glennie (Glendening) can go punch for punch with the other team’s best players, it frees up other guys to do things offensively.”

Media circus

Is this the playoffs already?

No, but it felt that way Wednesday because of the extra large media contingent from Ottawa and Toronto in town for the Wings-Senators game.

The reason for the excess media was debut of defenseman Dion Phaneuf with the Senators, who acquired Phaneuf the day before from Toronto.

Entering play Wednesday, Ottawa was only four points from a playoff berth.

“They’ve added a guy who has been a real good player in the league for a long time,” Blashill said. “From the outside looking in, it makes them a better team, but we knew it was going to be a challenge no matter what.”

The Maple Leafs traded away their captain (Phaneuf) but gained significant room under the salary cap and likely will be aggressive in free agency this summer.

“I’m pretty sure that both teams are happy,” Henrik Zetterberg said.

Ice chips

Mike Green (groin) skated lightly Wednesday but missed his second consecutive game and remains day-to-day.

… Zetterberg said a simpler style of play is behind the Red Wings’ recent success at Joe Louis Arena, which hasn’t been a huge home advantage this season.

“We’ve been playing better on the road than we have been at home,” Zetterberg said. “Maybe we wanted to do a little bit too much here at home. So we’re keeping it more simple and when you do that, you score goals.”