Wings brace for outdoors with defense intact

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe Woods — With Jonathan Ericsson ready to return to the lineup against the Avalanche Saturday, outdoors at Coors Field, the Red Wings skated with a reconstituted defense corps in practice today at University Liggett School.

Coach Jeff Blashill’s top pair remained in place, as Kyle Quincey skated with Danny DeKeyser.

Niklas Kronwall, who returned to the lineup Tuesday in the 2-1 shootout victory against the Blue Jackets, skated with the rookie Alexey Marchenko. And Mike Green paired with Ericsson.

Brendan Smith and Xavier Ouellet skated as a fourth unit, a few hours before the Wings announced Ouellet was sent to Grand Rapids after playing five games, averaging 16:14 playing time and recording an assist, five hits, three blocked shots and three takeaways.

“We anticipate Ericsson playing, but we’ll check it out after today and see how it was,” Blashill said.

Asked if the pairings were likely to remain the same, in three days, Blashill said it is under review,

“We’ll evaluate,” he said. ““We’ve got to see where Johnny’s at, but we’ll evaluate and make those decisions.”

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It was a full-force practice for the Wings, who will take Thursday off, other than a visit with the Detroit Economic Club at the Motor City Casino and travel to Denver.

“The one thing we had the luxury of today is we don’t play for three more days. It was an opportunity to get some work in.”

Darren Helm, who was sick, was the only absentee.

Blashill said Smith was good to go after going to the ice, heading to the bench and down the tunnel to the dressing room after absorbing a massive body check from the Blue Jackets' Kerby Rychel in Tuesday's game.

Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith left the game Tuesday after being checked by the Blue Jackets' Kerby Rychel (not pictured).

Ericsson and the Red Wings declined to specify his injury, beyond the “lower body,” designation.

“I feel good,” said the nine-year veteran, after practice. “I told coach I can go, but it’s up to him, now, if I’m in there.”

Ericsson missed the last outdoor game in which the Wings played, against the Maple Leafs in Michigan Stadium. He was suffering then from two broken ribs, he said.

“Of course, it’s a fun event and I was really bummed that I missed the last one; just a little fluke injury the week before,” said the 31-year-old, who has played 50 games this season.

“I feel good now, and hopefully I’ll be able to play Saturday.”

Ericsson said he played outdoors in Sweden, growing up.

“So, it’s not my first outdoor game. But it’s my first outdoor game with more than 100 people.”

About 30,000 to 40,000 fans are expected at Coors Field.