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Ericsson returns

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
The Wings are putting Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk back together on the power play, along with Gustav Nyquist, Justin Abdelkader and Niklas Kronwall. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT -- After missing five games with an upper-body injury, Jonathan Ericsson is ready to return to action.

"I think I'm going to say that I'm ready to play and it's going to be up to the coach but hopefully I'm in tonight," Ericsson said after the morning skate.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Ericsson is playing and Jakub Kindl would sit out.

Blashill has put Ericsson with Danny DeKeyser as part of a shut-down pair to go up against other teams' top lines.

"Certainly with him back in the lineup, he’s done a good job for us all season long," Blashill said. "He’s obviously real big, skates real well and is a big body that can handle we think the best players in the world, so that’s what he was matched up with DeKeyser doing. They were a good pair. Johnny’s been a good pair with (Niklas Kronwall) at different times as well. We’ll evaluate and decide which way we want to go with that but it certainly give us another we think defensive weapon."

Ericsson has not missed a lot of time and since it was an upper-body injury, he has been able to maintain his conditioning.

"I don't even like to stay away two days from the ice but I had a chance to skate every day, which helps," Ericsson said. "It's not going to be the same as a game, conditioning, but it's going to be as close as you get when you have the chance to skate every day. That was a positive thing."

Ericsson said he probably could have come back a little sooner but at this point in the season, there was no need to risk it.

"It's a matter of being game 35, 36, so on," Ericsson said. "The doctors and staff took the decision, they've been through this way more times than I have so they know better than me. Now I feel ready, I shouldn't get put back in my recovery by playing tonight. That's my thought and it seems to be their thought as well."

EURO TWINS, ACTIVATE: Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have played together a lot in their careers but not as much this season.

For now, they have been reunited on the power play.

"That’s what we practiced this morning and that’s the way they scored a goal the other night," Blashill said. "So we’ll most likely start the game that way. A little bit depends on when the power plays come. They’re on different lines so if they’re tired and whatnot, but we want to at least be able to go to them when we feel like it’s the right move."

Gustav Nyquist, Justin Abdelkader and Kronwall are also on that power-play unit.

"In case there's pressure on the wall, you want to be able to give them some relief as a pop-out guy in the middle and most importantly retrieve pucks for those guys after a shot or a rebound, you want to be that guy who either cleans up or gets it on net or gets it back and delivers it to those guys so they can work their flanks," Nyquist said. "Also be kind of a depth of screen and be in a high-tip puck position. There’s a few things you want to do as middle guy, I think the retrieval part is the most important thing."

The Wings are currently ranked 18th on the power play overall and 26th at home so it's worth a shot.

"They’re two players who played together for a long time, they know each other well, so putting them together gives us a different look," Nyquist said. "Power play hasn’t been clicking so we had to change something up, rotate a few guys in different spots, hopefully it’ll give us a boost."

PENGUINS IN TOWN: These aren't the Pittsburgh Penguins people expected to see when the season started.

Mired in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division with 38 points, 20 points behind the division-leading Washington Capitals, the Penguins have already fired head coach Mike Johnston and assistant Gary Agnew.

Mike Sullivan has been the coach for the last eight games, in which the Penguins have gone 2-5-1-, including Wednesday's shootout loss to Toronto.

"They’re dangerous," Blashill said. "I know they’ve had some problems scoring but they still feel dangerous every time out there. I thought last night’s game both goalies we’re really good. I thought both goalies had to make a number of big saves. I think Pittsburgh – the whole league to me is extraordinarily tight. The difference in teams is very minimal. I think teams can really jump up in the standings and the reverse can happen. We know it’s going to be a real challenge tonight. We know that we’ll have to put forth our best hockey to have success."

The Penguins have scored just 80 goals, fewer than every team but Philadelphia at 77 and Anaheim at 66.

The Wings aren't taking anything for granted.

"They have a good lineup, especially up front," Ericsson said. "They're really challenging to play against, they have a lot of firepower up front. Obviously they haven't got as many goals as they wanted. In the past they've been creating a lot more maybe and scoring more goals so that's probably a little disappointing for them but I'm sure that they're going to find a way to put pucks in in the future but hopefully not tonight."

The Wings have dropped their last two games by scores of 3-1 and 4-1 so they have their own issues to solve.

"I'm expecting a lot of speed, a lot of skill," Dylan Larkin said. "Their D are big and hard to play against and their goalies are good. I think we're going to have to be really sharp and have a lot of desperation to get back on track."

PULKKINEN PROGRESSING: Teemu Pulkkinen has missed the last 12 games with a dislocated right shoulder but he is making progress.

Pulkkinen has been skating a bit and might be able to join his teammates for practice, perhaps as soon as next week.

"I can do a couple drills with the team," Pulkkinen said. "I can shoot, I can skate, it’s no issue there but the only thing is no contact. We’ll have to figure out when is a good time to go with the team.”

Pulkkinen is known for his hard shot, which he says is steadily improving.

"Obviously it’s a little bit harder but it’s coming," Pulkkinen said. "I had a new brace today and I have to adjust to it. I think everything’s going to be good."

Pulkkinen said it is up to the doctors and training staff to decide when he can return but admitted it isn't much fun watching.

"t’s hard, of course you want to play, but it’s hockey, it happens to every guy," Pulkkinen said. "You have to do the rehab, work hard and be ready when they let you play."

LARKIN WATCHES FORMER TEAMMATES WIN: Larkin never got to play in the Great Lakes Invitational.

While his Michigan teammates were winning the MacInnes Cup last year, Larkin was with Team USA competing in world juniors.

On Wednesday, a day off for the Wings, Larkin watched as the Wolverines repeated as GLI champions, their 17th GLI title overall.

"It was pretty cool to watch it," Larkin said. "To see the guys, it's kind of like the Duel in the D, same thing, but I think it was a great atmosphere. Michigan Tech had a lot of fans, which was really cool. It was a good win for that team."

Tyler Motte was with Larkin last year at world juniors but this year Motte played and scored as Michigan rallied from a 2-0 deficit against Michigan Tech.

"It was a typical Motter goal there in front of the net, tipping or screening," Larkin said. "He's had a great year so far. It was good to see guys like Sam Piazza be on the all-tournament team, he didn't play much last year and he got an opportunity with Zach (Werenski) being at world juniors and took advantage of it. It's great to see all those guys compete."

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