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Pulkkinen returns

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Riley Sheahan had two goals and two assists as the Wings went 5-1 on their recent road trip. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT -- Returning to the lineup after missing 18 games is a challenge, but it's one that Teemu Pulkkinen welcomes.

Pulkkinen, 24, dislocated his right shoulder Dec. 3 against the Arizona Coyotes.

He has been practicing with the team for a couple of weeks and coach Jeff Blashill said Pulkkinen would return to the lineup Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"It's been a long six weeks so it's nice to be back for sure," Pulkkinen said after the Wings practiced at Joe Louis Arena Saturday. "I feel good. My shoulder is 100 percent so that's a good thing. With the skating, we're going to see tomorrow how I feel but obviously I think it's going to take a couple games, maybe a game or two, to get to the game speed. I just try to keep it simple, play hard and play short shifts and I think I'm fine."

In 24 games this season, Pulkkinen has six goals, five assists and is plus-2.

"The games he’s played he’s done a good job," Blashill said. "He was unfortunately hurt. He’s in the mix with a bunch of guys I think are good players. Some of them have had longer opportunity to prove it than Pulkki has. But I think when Pulkki has been in he’s played good."

Pulkkinen was cleared by doctors and activated Friday.

No roster move was needed to activate Pulkkinen but his return means someone will have to sit.

"We'll make that decision tomorrow," Blashill said. "We've got to look at the health of our guys tomorrow."

All players practiced Saturday so no one has a serious injury or illness.

"I just want to see how guys were coming off the ice before I commit to any kind of lineup," Blashill said.

Pulkkinen will wear a brace to help his shoulder, but he said the shoulder is fine.

"Shot is fine. Like I said before, my shoulder is 100 percent right now so shooting is fine, everything should be fine," Pulkkinen said. "I feel my shot is there and I just try to use it tomorrow."

It's not just Pulkkinen's shot that Blashill wants to see.

"For him to be good he’s got to make sure he’s doing things right defensively," Blashill said. "He’s got to come back and stop, he’s got to be available on breakouts and then what he does all the time I think is competes real hard. He’s off to the puck a lot and then he’s got to make plays offensively. Obviously, part of that is shooting, he can really shoot it. But I think sometimes he’s discounted for his ability to make plays, he can make plays. The other thing he can potentially do is bring a real scoring threat on that other power-play unit. We’re hoping that just his shot alone can create chaos to make a good unit."

Pulkkinen knows what is expected of him and he knows the team has been playing well in his absence, but he also knows it won't be easy to jump back in at NHL speed.

"I know what they want me to do there. It's a good thing," Pulkkinen said. "I've been out six weeks so it's never easy to come back. I haven't been in the league a long time. It's not easy for the guys who have been in the league long time so I just try to keep it simple and play hard."

HOME, SWEET HOME: After an extremely successful 5-1 road trip, the Wings are looking to keep the momentum going at home.

Currently the Wings are 11-8-4 at home and 12-6-3 on the road.

"You’re supposed to have an advantage at home so we’ve got to take the consistency we had on the road and bring it back here," Riley Sheahan said. "Obviously we’re excited to play in front of our own fans. There’s always a buzz in the rink and we get up for these games. I think we’ve got to bring that same effort and consistency we had on the road back here."

For every team returning from a long road trip, the first game back seems to be the biggest hurdle.

"I think first of all you’re catching up on sleep," Blashill said. "We had a sleep doctor in early this year, we talked a lot about different things. I got to my bed at 5 in the morning and slept on the plane, but you got to catch up on sleep, that’s one thing. So our guys got to be real important about their rest. I know they have the last couple days. I just think refocusing yourself. When you’re on the road there’s very little – I don’t want to call them distractions – but there’s very little things outside just your team and playing. Here at home there’s lots of things going on. So you got to make sure you stay focused and do a really good job that way. We got to be better than we were today in practice, I can tell you that. We got to make sure our focus is better than it was today."

Blashill characterized Saturday's practice as "sluggish."

"It’s tough to say exactly," Sheahan said. "Maybe it’s just the different routine and having a few more distractions at home, positively and negatively. When you’re on the road you have a lot of time to

yourself. Maybe just the change of routine might be something that’s tough to cope with. Just being at home I think we’re good at home and we’re comfortable here."

FLYERS SURGING: The Flyers will come to town on a bit of a hot streak.

They entered Saturday afternoon's game against the New York Rangers on a four-game winning streak.

"They’ve played real good hockey," Blashill said. "They struggled a little bit on their Western trip. Since they’ve come back they’ve played real good. They got some elite players. (Claude) Giroux has been one of the better players in the league for a long time. (Jakub) Voracek, (Sean) Couturier is a real good centerman. So it’ll be like every other game is in the league. It’ll be a battle. They’re fighting for points and we got to fight for points."

Giroux leads the Flyers with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 41 games.

AGAINST THE FLYERS: Blashill said Petr Mrazek would be the starting goaltender and the six defensemen who played against the Coyotes would play again Sunday.

That means Alexey Marchenko is the odd defenseman out again.

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