TAYLOR, Mich. – Last season was a record-setting one for Teemu Pulkkinen.
The American Hockey League rookie established a new all-time freshmen record for the Grand Rapids Griffins, producing 59 points in 71 games. He’s off to a fantastic sophomore season and is on pace to set another Griffins record – but that will have to wait.
The Red Wings recalled Pulkkinen on Thursday to replace Johan Franzen, who has been placed on injured reserve after being hit in the head by Edmonton’s Rob Klinkhammer on Tuesday.
“It’s good to be here and I’m very excited about the opportunity to play in Washington,” said Pulkkinen, who was riding an eight-game goal scoring streak prior to his call up , which is one shy of setting a new Griffins’ mark.
Pulkkinen reported to the Wings on Friday and practiced with the team at the Taylor Sportsplex before their scheduled afternoon departure to Washington D.C. where they will face the Capitals on Saturday night.
During Friday’s line drills, Pulkkinen skated on the right side of the third line with center Riley Sheahan and forward Drew Miller. Pulkkinen also worked on the team’s second power-play unit.
“I’m just going to put him on Sheahan’s line and hopefully he shoots it every time he touches it,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He just seems to be a good player that scores. He’s scored his whole life. Now is he ready to score in the NHL? We’re always looking for goals. If he can score why wouldn’t we have him? And he’s a right-handed shot.”
Pulkkinen made his NHL debut with the Red Wings last March. He played in three games but made little impact.
“He just didn’t earn a spot,” Babcock said. “I’m just in the winning business. Can you help us or not. All players think they need more ice time to play better. Coach thinks play better and you get more ice time. I don’t know, chicken or egg.”
This season, though, Griffins coach Jeff Blashill has had high praise for the 5-foot-11 sniper. He and Babcock communicate several times each week, and Pulkkinen’s name comes up often in those conversations.
“We’re always talking about players,” Babcock said. “He’s been telling me for a long time he’s ready and we have injuries so he gets a chance.”
The 23-year-old Pulkkinen possesses an absolutely lethal right-handed shot, something currently missing from the Red Wings’ offensive arsenal. He leads the AHL with 20 goals in 33 games and is second in the league with 39 points.
“Obviously he has a real good shot. But also he's good at finding the open ice to be able to receive passes,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “He doesn't need much. It's almost like Brett Hull in a way. He doesn't need a lot of room to get a shot off. It's going to be interesting to see what he can do. Obviously he's done a real good job down in Grand Rapids and I’m looking forward to having him around with us.”
Zetterberg isn’t alone in comparing Pulkkinen to the Golden Brett.
“It’s almost like every time he shoots the puck it’s either going in or the goalie’s not going to know where it’s going and it’ll hit off him and create another scoring chance,” Sheahan said. “It’s hard. It’s accurate. He gets it’s off pretty quick. Not many guys have a shot like him.
“That’s something he can take pride in and you can see how well he’s doing in the AHL. The goals he’s scored. It’s a tough shot to stop.”
CAPITAL GAINS: Saturday’s match-up at the Verizon Center pits two of the league’s top four power plays. The Wings are ranked second at 24.5 percent (38-for-155) and the Capitals are fourth at 23.3 percent (28-for-120).
“It’s not just (Alex) Ovechkin,” Babcock said. “That’s what they’re figuring out. They’ve got a good team. They’re good on the back end. They’re deep. When you have (Mike) Green playing as your fifth D-man you’re a pretty good team on the back to say the least. They have four lines. They’re deep. They have scoring through three lines and then a real hard working group on the fourth line. They’re a good team.”
A LONGER ROAD: The Red Wings begin the second half of a six-game road trip Saturday in Washington. Detroit has posted a 9-6-3 record on the road this season.
“I thought we started pretty good on our three games on the road,” Babcock said. “In Vancouver I thought we had the puck all the time, but we didn’t win the specialty teams battle. The other two nights we won the specialty battle. I don’t think that means we played bad in Vancouver.”
The Wings have had a winning road record in 13 of their last 14 seasons, but have encountered problems at times this season.
“If you go through it every night, when we struggle, we don’t score, we don’t get to three (goals),” Babcock said. “When we don’t struggle we get to three.”
In the first nine road games this season, Detroit posted a 4-2-3 mark while outscoring opponents, 26-19. But in the last nine away games, the Wings are just 5-4-0 and have been out-scored, 28-21.
INJURY UPDATES: Franzen and Tomas Jurco will likely miss a minimum of a week with injuries sustained this week.
Franzen was struck in the hit during the second period Tuesday in Edmonton. He finished the game against the Oilers, but missed the Wednesday’s game at Calgary. Franzen’s status is day to day.
“You know how those things are,” Babcock said. “We just see when they’re ready.”
Jurco has a lower back injury, which the forward said had been building over time. He was scheduled to be evaluated by a back specialist on Friday.
“He’s got a back issue, a little bit of a disc issue,” Babcock said. “He’ll be shut down for a bit, hopefully for not long.”
Defense - DET
Goals: 2 | Assists: 7 | Pts: 9
Shots: 36 | +/-: -1
Defenseman Jakub Kindl
continues to practice despite a limited range of motion in his sprained left elbow. He has missed the past six games.
“You gotta let it heal,” he said. “It's in a bad spot where if I get caught out there, I don't want to get it worse. It's just got to heal properly.”
Though he continues to skate with the team at practice, there’s no timetable for his return, Kindl said Friday.
“I'm just trying to get into contact more and more but obviously I'm trying to be careful,” he said. “I don't want to jam it or twist it again.”