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Notes: Wings shake up lines for more net presence

Ericsson expected to return after missing one game due to illness

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

ST. PAUL -- Having lost the last two games, the Red Wings are shaking things up a little bit.

In the morning skate at Minnesota's Xcel Energy Center, the lines looked like this:

Tyler Bertuzzi-Henrik Zetterberg-Gustav Nyquist

Justin Abdelkader-Dylan Larkin-Anthony Mantha

Andreas Athanasiou-Frans Nielsen-Darren Helm

Luke Witkowski-Luke Glendening-David Booth (Martin Frk extra)

"Z's line's been real good, but we need more lines going," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "We're hoping to get a little bit more net presence on each line and we'll see if it will give us a spark."

Previously, the lines were set up this way:





"I think that looking at how the lines are set up, we have net front guys on each line that go to the net," Abdelkader said. "We gotta continue to get pucks around the nets and make it hard on the goalie. I thought we did a better job last game, but we need to continue if you want to score goals in this league. Get pucks there and get bodies to the net.

"It's a little change but I think guys will be ready to go tonight. Obviously we want to flush the last couple of games out. It's been close but not quite good enough. We've got a team tonight that's really good on home ice, so we got to be prepared to come out with our best."

EXTRA TIME FOR NIELSEN: In the last game in Winnipeg, Nielsen was on the first power-play unit with Nyquist, Zetterberg, Abdelkader and Niklas Kronwall.

That unit did yield Kronwall's power-play goal in the first period.

Blashill said Nielsen brings something a little different to the power play.

"Poise and simplicity," Blashill said. "It's not a dynamic shot or anything like that. It's basically trying to eliminate unforced errors. He's got a good downhill mentality, so he's gonna keep it simple. And again, you've got to have poise when you're under pressure and make sure there's no unforced errors. I think that's creeped into our power play way too much. That's why he went on it last game."

Like most teams, the Wings have an effective power play when they spend time in the offensive zone.

"You gotta be able to get into the zone and set up, and I just thought that killed us at times last year," Blashill said. "It's been pretty good for the most part this year, but lately we gone back towards too many unforced errors in games. You've got to be able to have that kind of poise. That's why he's ended up on six on five a number of times, because when he's out there, we've scored, because he has poise under pressure."

Nielsen will be playing in his 750th career game tonight.

ERICSSON RETURNS: Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson missed Friday's game in Winnipeg due to illness, the first game he's missed all season.

Ericsson was back on the ice for Sunday's morning skate, paired as usual with Trevor Daley.

"Yeah, I feel better," Ericsson said. "I'm glad I haven't been out more seriously than this. Hopefully, I'll be good to go tonight. That's what my goal is anyways. I haven't seen what the coaches are going to do. Obviously, I'm not going to feel the best, but it was hard during the skate this morning. I haven't been able to eat much and get much energy."

Blashill has frequently said that Ericsson does not get enough credit for what he brings to the table.

"Johnny's got a unique skill set. He's big and he can skate," Blashill said. "When you play teams that are big and can skate, he can match up against them. Physically, there's guys in the league - (Evgeni) Malkin, (Ryan) Getzlaf, those guys on Winnipeg, Eric Staal here tonight - that's it's hard if you don't match them physically. It was kind of like last year when he was out with an injury, you miss him for sure. Sometimes you don't realize how much you miss him until he's out. Certainly glad to have him back in."

Ericsson is currently the team leader in plus-minus at plus-5, just ahead of Zetterberg, who is plus-4.

WILD LIKE JETS, TOUGH AT HOME: Once again, the Wings will face a team that is particularly tough at home.

The Wild are tied for first in the league with 50 points at home with a 22-5-6 record.

"They got a good record in this building, obviously," Blashill said. "I watched their game against St. Louis because we were playing St. Louis the next night, and I thought they were excellent. They're big bodies, they're hard around your net. Staal's been a great signing for them. (Mikko) Koivu's one of the best two-way players in the league. Henrik Zetterberg mentioned him as one of the hardest guys to play against.

"They got a real good D corps and a real good goalie. We know it will be a challenge, but for us it's about controlling our own play. If we play our best hockey, we'll take on anybody."

The Wild get a lot of offensive contributions from their defensemen.

Minnesota's blue liners are second in the league with 157 points (35-122-157) to Nashville's 166.

The Wings' defensemen are tied for 28th with 97 (25-72-97).

Only Vegas (24), Winnipeg (24), Dallas (23), Colorado (23) and Washington (23) have more home wins than Minnesota.

"It gets pretty wild in this building," Ericsson said with the unintentional pun. "Maybe they feel all the supporters behind them and getting that extra boost every night. Obviously, it's a crazy hockey town and when the team is doing really good, it gets loud here."

Abdelkader said they only play in Minnesota once a year at Xcel Energy Center but he remembers the crowd.

"I would say there's always a good crowd in here," Abdelkader said. "It's always pretty loud. They're a team that this year has been playing good on home ice. We know we're going to face their best, so we knew we got to be ready and prepared to come out with our best."

Staal, 33, is having one of the best years of his career, with 33 goals and 31 assists in 65 games.

Last season Staal had 28 goals and 37 assists in 82 games.

"He's had a great year," Abdelkader said. "Good for him. I think some people had tended to write him off the last couple of years and he's come back and had an unbelievable season. Good for him to have such a good year."

At 6-foot-4, 209 pounds, Staal is the Wild's biggest forward so Ericsson is likely to be on the ice when he is out there.

"He's had a real good year," Ericsson said. "Facing him before many times, he's a guy who competes really hard and this year he seems to be getting on the score sheet a lot, especially getting goals. He's a competitive guy, he's big and strong and can make plays. Got to be close to him and not give him so much space out there."

The biggest player on the team is goaltender Devan Dubnyk at 6-foot-6, 218 pounds.

Dubnyk has 27-12-5 with a 2.65 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. Against the Wings, he is 4-3-4 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in 12 appearances.

"He just takes up a lot of net, so we gotta make it hard for him around the net," Abdelkader said. "Get good shots and obviously he's going to give up rebounds, so we gotta be there for those opportunities."

Jimmy Howard said he is starting against the Wild. Howard is 14-3-3 with a 2.16 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games against Minnesota.

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