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Notes: Abdelkader nearing return, possibly in new role

Wings also change things up during special teams work in last part of practice

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- One of the benefits of a few days of practice is you can try a few things out without necessarily committing to them.

In addition to working on the areas they know they need to improve, the Red Wings are experimenting with a few ideas during these extended practice days.

"We've gone a little bit longer, we're certainly getting the things done that we want to address," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said after Wednesday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center. "We're working towards getting better in those areas. Now you got to go out when you play and execute in those areas but I think we're certainly working in those areas."

Justin Abdelkader, who has missed the last 11 games with an upper-body injury caused by blocking a shot against the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 10, was able to practice fully with the team, skating on a line with Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm.

"It's good. I'm hoping he can have a day off tomorrow and have a real good practice Friday and potentially be ready for Saturday," Blashill said. "Abby was playing good hockey when he got hurt, part of the reason he got hurt was he was sacrificing for the team and blocking shots, so it will be nice to get him back in the lineup.

"It gives us some options, too. When Abby came in the league he was a center. I've thought about potentially putting him in the middle a little bit, so we'll see."

Abdelkader has always been a forward that jumps into the face-off circle if the center is kicked out so he's familiar with that aspect of the position.

For his career, he has won 841 face-offs and lost 837 for a career 50.1 percentage.

This season Abdelkader is 14-for-19 in face-offs for 42.4 percent in just 16 games.

However, it has been quite a while since Abdelkader was a full-time center.

"Potentially it could allow our lines to be in spots that I want," Blashill said. "I think Abby is a good-sized body who is fairly responsible defensive player. It's just something I've thought about. He's taken face-offs, especially on the left side and done a good job. But again, he's a bigger body who's done a good job in down low coverage. With some of the tweaks we made in the D-zone, I think that's going to be an important thing."

Whatever role Abdelkader is in, his teammates will welcome him back.

"It looked like he was flying around out there today and had some jump," Dylan Larkin said. "Just adding him back into the lineup will be huge for us and the penalty kill and playing the right way. Hopefully, he'll help us win one of these games where we're just a step behind and need that extra goal or to prevent a goal against."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Detroit prospects, center Chase Pearson and goalie Filip Larsson join us to discuss the ups and downs of their first year in professional hockey.Listen/download:

POWER-PLAY POTENTIAL: For the first part of special teams work, the power-play units looked pretty familiar.

One unit had Robby Fabbri, Larkin, Brendan Perlini, Tyler Bertuzzi (net front) and Dennis Cholowski while the other had Filip Hronek, Valtteri Filppula, Andreas Athanasiou, Nielsen (net front) and Mike Green.

Nielsen is a recent addition to the net-front area on the power play.

"We haven't found anybody that's grabbed that spot," Blashill said Tuesday. "I don't think net front has to be a big guy that does nothing but screen and tip. I think the net-front guy can be a guy who's able to make plays. One thing you gotta be able to do is get in on the entries. Nielsen has real good poise, he's a good power-play player. For me, it was just looking down the bench and saying, you know what, that guy's been a pretty good power-play player, let's see if he can do it on the net front and add to that power play a little bit."

For the second part of special teams work, the units got mixed up a bit.

One unit had Hronek, Larkin, Athanasiou, Bertuzzi (net front) and Cholowski while the other had Green, Filppula, Perlini, Nielsen (net front) and Fabbri.

"Anything we're doing out there is potential to use, so what practice allows you to do is get a look at it and see if it's something we want," Blashill said. "So we'll go back, we film every practice, we'll go back and look at that film and see if it's things we think can make us more successful on the power play."

The Red Wings did score a power-play goal against the New York Islanders Monday but remain 26th overall with the man-advantage at 13.8 percent.

It's been better at Little Caesars Arena as the Wings are 18th at 19.6 percent but much worse on the road as they are last at 7 percent.

ZADINA AND HIROSE: With the Wings having five days between games, they took the opportunity to send forwards Filip Zadina and Taro Hirose to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

The Griffins play at home both tonight and Friday so the potential is there to bring back one or both players before the Wings host the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday.

"I just talked to Steve (Yzerman), he's going to play tonight and Steve is going to watch him," Blashill said of Zadina. "We'll make that decision after tonight."

Blashill said the same applied to Hirose.

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