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Red Wings shuffle defensive pairings

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Danny DeKeyser and Kyle Quincey will be reunited on the blue line Friday night at Calgary. The defensive pairing was a fixture together for the Red Wings last season. (Photo by Getty Images)

CALGARY – Change is coming.

In an effort to strength the defense and snap a three-game losing streak, coach Jeff Blashill has shuffled the Red Wings’ defensive pairings ahead of Friday’s game against the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The move affects all three pairings, including the duo of Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, who have been defensive partners for most of the time since Nicklas Lidstrom retired.

Kronwall will be banded with right-handed shooting Mike Green, and Ericsson will be paired with Brendan Smith.

Danny DeKeyser and Kyle Quincey will be reunited for the first time since they were season-long partners in 2014-15.

“You’re looking for the best chemistry,” Blashill said. “Obviously when you add new players as we added Greener, DK was out for the majority of the preseason and just came back, you’re looking for the best chemistry and the guys that work the best together. Sometime until you try it you don’t know. I think to a man each guy can still be better regardless of pairings. But hopefully with the pairings we’re putting them in a spot to be successful.”

Smith returns to Friday’s lineup after sitting the last two games. Meanwhile, Jakub Kindl will be a healthy scratch against Calgary, and miss his first game this season.

Last season, DeKeyser and Quincey were often heralded as the Wings’ best-performing defensive pairing. Prior to last month’s training camp, Blashill saw potential in matching DeKeyser with Green. Now the coach hopes reuniting DeKeyser and Quincey will provide a spark on the back end.

“We sat as a coaching staff and said ‘they were really good together last season,’ ” Blashill said. “They ended up lots of times out there against the other team’s best players. We think they can continue to do that so we thought ‘let’s put them together.’ That’s a pair that we know does have chemistry so let’s start there.”

The Wings would like for the defense to be more involved in the offensive zone. Through the first six games, the Wings’ defensive corps has produced one goal and five assists with a combined plus-6 rating and 29 shots on goal.

“I know they emphasize that a lot in practice,” Green said. “I think we can do a better job of getting up in the play and creating some more offense. Not only that, the offense starts in the D zone too. I think making clean passes, not turning pucks over and the simple things. I think it's a collective group of things that we can do better.”

Change isn’t always met favorably, but DeKeyser said he welcomes the moves along the blue line.

“We just haven’t been very crisp back on the back end,” he said. “We haven’t moved the puck well and really haven’t been as good as we can be. There’s definitely potential there for us to be better and I think switching up the pairings, mixing it up and seeing some fresh faces maybe we can get some different chemistry going.”

With the Wings’ unfavorable schedule featuring so many back-to-back games in the first two months, getting fresh skaters into the lineup on occasion is important to Blashill, which is why Smith is back in.

“We’re at the point of the year where we want to keep guys going, we want to give them opportunities to continue to improve their game,” Blashill said. “Smitty can be a real effective player. I’ve seen him be a real effective player. He’s got to go out and execute tonight.”

Smith is also expected to get some ice time on the power play, which is a role he once held when he played for Blashill in Grand Rapids. Look for Smith to be on the second unit with DeKeyser, and Green and Kronwall on the first unit.

“Smitty’s done it in the past,” Blashill said. “He’s done it for me in the past. DK’s done it in the past. We hope one of them can do a real good job.”

Brad Richards
Center  - DET
Goals: 0 | Assists: 2 | Pts: 2
Shots: 13 | +/-: -1
RICHARDS OUT: Brad Richards is out of the lineup for tonight’s game against the Flames. The veteran center is experiencing soreness in his back, according to Blashill, who will add Joakim Andersson to the lineup.

Richards has two assists with a minus-1 rating in six games since joining the Red Wings as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason.

Andersson will center the fourth line with forwards Drew Miller and Landon Ferraro.

Young Dylan Larkin will assume the second-line center role created by Richards’ absence. A natural center, Larkin played in the middle with Teemu Pulkkinen and Tomas Tatar late in the Wings’ third-period comeback win at Carolina on Oct. 10.

That line sparked the come-from-behind victory when Pulkkinen scored twice.

Tatar hopes lightning will strike again.

“We need to make some changes just to get us back on the horse,” Tatar said. “We are all three young guys and we will try to bring energy to the team and play most of the time in the offensive zone.”

Tomas Jurco
Right Wing  - DET
Goals: 0 | Assists: 0 | Pts: 0
Shots: 1 | +/-: E
PLANS FOR JURKS: Blashill said Friday that there is a long-term plan for Tomas Jurco, who will miss his third straight game tonight.

The 22-year-old forward has no points in two games.

“Jurks is somebody who has done some real good stuff for me in the past. I believe lots in Jurks,” Blashill said. “I think there’s still another level with Jurcs, but what we’re trying to do is give him some stuff, get him to where he’s skating at the level I think he needs to skate at in order to be effective out there. I could keep plugging him in every other game or every third game, but I think ultimately if we just take a little time away to get Jurco’s game back to where I think it’s going to be, he could become a real effective player for us.”

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