Wings pair two speedsters with Richards in practice

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe Woods — The search for offense continues.

Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou started skating on a line with Brad Richards during practice Wednesday at Liggett High.

Blazing young speed with a veteran playmaker.

Meanwhile, in the third period of yet another game when scoring was too sparse — a 2-1 overtime victory over the Blue Jackets — Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg seemed to leap back over the boards almost as soon as their tailbones hit the bench.

At 37 and 35, respectively, they remain the key cogs.

Thoughts of a slower pace for Datsyuk and Zetterberg can seem both wise and irrelevant at the same time with the standings so tight at the head of the stretch.

Tomas Tatar’s two goals in 17 games and Gustav Nyquist’s two in 28 have not helped much. During practice, Tuesday’s scoring hero, Riley Sheahan, who had one in regulation and one in the shootout, centered them.

Coors Field, and an outdoor game against the Avalanche on Saturday, may be the test of the most recent tinkering.

Vets in shape

Jeff Blashill said time on ice for Datsyuk and Zetterberg is less of a concern because of their conditioning and work habits.

“I actually went to three sets of four, last night, for the most part,” the coach said, explaining how he divided the workload for his forwards

“I had kind of pairs, and I’d throw a different guy in, each time.”

The result, in part, was more shifts for both veteran stalwarts.

Asked if the time on ice is sustainable, Blashill said, “We’ll see.”

“They’ve played lots of minutes here, lately,” he said. “We’ll have to manage that and continue to monitor it, and part of that monitoring is asking them how they feel and then observing their energy.

“I felt even late in the game that Pavel had good energy. I thought the same thing in New York. He played 24 minutes.”

Blashill recalled that in the third period against the Rangers, Datsyuk won a puck battle with two defenders arrayed against him and skated briskly to scoring position.

“He rang it off the crossbar,” Blashill said. “He didn’t seem to be tired at all.

“Those two guys are in elite shape. And I mean elite shape.

“I don’t know if age is a big factor when you’re in that kind of shape.”

Richards has faceoffs down

The age factor for the 19-year-old Larkin and Athanasiou runs in the opposite direction: Young guys need to establish themselves to garner ice time.

Larkin triumphed early, cementing his spot.

There is every possibility Athanasiou’s performance against the Blue Jackets — when his ice time spiked to 15 minutes from about eight, he played important minutes in overtime and he secured a big second point for the Red Wings in the shootout — will be remembered as vital to staking his claim.

“I think just coming to the rink every day and being a pro, whether it’s practice or off the ice in the gym,” Athanasiou said. “You know, I just try to do my best to get ready for the games and bring that consistency level.”

Blashill said that while he had three days to think about it, he might pair the two young sparkplugs with Richards against the Avalanche.

“We wanted to look at it in practice,” he said.

Neither Larkin nor Athanasiou is accomplished, yet, on faceoffs.

“The one thing that Richards gives that line is a proven faceoff guy,” Blashill said. “The other two guys, if there’s a negative about them playing center, it’s they haven’t proved themselves in the circle.

“A.A. in the American League was about 49 percent. That usually equates to about 44 percent up here. If that’s the case, I couldn’t put him out in the D-zone or the O-zone.

“I think the line combination is lots of speed and dynamics, and a real smart guy who’s got over 1,300 points in the NHL.”

If it clicks and sticks, it is perhaps the newest version of “two kids and a goat.”

Larkin explained the concept of the line, and his feel for it in practice, with a football metaphor — one that may absolutely titillate Red Wings fans.

“We can really use our speed together and hockey sense, and then you have a guy like Brad Richards who knows the game and is responsible defensively,” Larkin said.

“I told him he’s like a quarterback with us two wide receivers flying around in the zone.”

Back to Grand Rapids

For the second time this season, defenseman Jakub Kindl cleared waivers and is with Grand Rapids. Also joining the Griffins on Wednesday was defenseman Xavier Ouellet.

In five games with the Wings, the 22-year-old Ouellet recorded an assist, two penalty minutes, four shots, five hits, three blocked shots and three takeaways