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Richards' return

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Brendan Smith has missed the last five games due to illness but is expected back Friday night against the Los Angeles Kings. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- When you are searching for offense, it doesn't hurt to get back someone who ranks ninth among active players in points.

Brad Richards has not played since Oct. 21 in Edmonton, missing the last 13 games because of a back problem.

Richards, 35, has been practicing and said he's ready to go.

"It was good to get a practice with a line today," Richards said. "As long as (Wings coach Jeff Blashill) and the training staff and everybody is OK with that, I'm going to bed tonight hoping to play."

Blashill said the final decision would come Friday morning but Richards is expected to be in the lineup.

Richards skated on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Teemu Pulkkinen in Thursday's practice.

"I think if you look at his history in this league, his points per game are great and he’s got a great stick, he’s got a great offensive mind, so hopefully that combination with him and all the things Pavel can do and Pulkkinen has a lot of ability," Blashill said. "But the other thing Pulkkinen is doing right now and the reason he’s there is he’s providing energy, he’s on the puck, he’s skating hard on the track, he’s doing a lot of the skating. So I think that will help those two, having a guy with that type of energy."

In 1,064 regular-season games, Richards has 288 goals and 618 assists for 906 points.

But if Richards is in, that means someone else has to come out.

Blashill said rookie Andreas Athanasiou will return to Grand Rapids once the decision to activate Richards is final.

Athanasiou has one goal in six games and is averaging 8:53 ice time per game.

In practice, Henrik Zetterberg skated with Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader. Riley Sheahan centered Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist and Luke Glendening centered Drew Miller and Darren Helm.

With Richards missing so much time, it might be a little easier for him to return on the wing than immediately going back to center.

Richards has not missed many games in his career so this is all new to him.

"This is my longest layoff in my career," Richards said. "I just like playing with good hockey players. If I play with Pav, that will make things easier. He's a smart player, obviously. I pride myself on being able to read the ice. Wing, center, I've obviously played more center. I've played some wing. You get to play with a center man like that, hopefully we can figure something out out there."

SMITH ALSO LIKELY BACK IN: It has not been a fun time for Brendan Smith so far this season.

Smith has played in just 12 of the team's 19 games and has missed the last five due to illness.

"It’s been quite some time just battling, so finally I feel like I’m back to normal," Smith said.

Smith wasn't sure if it was strep throat, the flu or something else.

"It’s possible that (strep throat) was the case, and then nothing really got diagnosed," Smith said. "I had a really high fever and the body aches and all of those things."

Smith tried to keep going through the illness.

"I thought I could battle and then practice and it was just getting worse, so we just had to take some precaution there," Smith said. "I was at the rink for four hours and I was sleeping the rest of the 20 hours. So you just try to recover and get better again."

Blashill said Smith is in a similar situation to Richards.

"We'll make the final decision tomorrow but he was in a pairing that would put him in the lineup as of today," Blashill said.

Smith is looking forward to a new opportunity and to staying healthy.

"It seemed like I’m in the lineup today, but I don’t know," Smith said. "If I’m in the lineup tomorrow I’ll be pretty happy, and I’ll be ready to go."

ALL-STAR CHANGES: The NHL likes the 3-on-3 overtime format so much that it's changing the All-Star Game to it.

There will be three 20-minute games played 3-on-3 and the teams will be by division.

"The idea of 3-on-3 is great," Niklas Kronwall said. "Now in the games, you can see how exciting it is. Not just to play but I think the fans really enjoy it, too. You get to see even more skill come out with these fantastic guys that we have."

Fans will vote for a player for each division and that player will captain his respective team, which will have six forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders.

The NHL Hockey Operations Department will choose the other 40 players and every team will have at least one representative.

"It’s going to be a little bit different," Tomas Tatar said. "I think the All-Star Game should be something that the people like because it’s for them. I feel that they should somehow be involved with what they’d like to see because we are playing it for the fans. I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but if people like it I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s up to them."

The four division-leading coaches after Jan. 9 will coach his division team.

The two Western Conference teams face off in one semifinal while the two Eastern Conference teams play in the other.

The conference winner of the skills competition on Jan. 30 will decide whether their semifinal game will be played first or second.

The prize pool of $1 million goes to the winning team, which is a new idea.

"If it makes the guys play hard, I guess," Abdelkader said. "That's the big thing is in an All-Star game, more than any other sport, is hockey's going to be physical. It's during the season. If you compare to other sporting leagues, football's at the end of the year, basketball is not physically hard, guys are running up and down the court, same thing with baseball. So they try to figure out a way to entertain fans and get the players to have something to compete for."

The players have gotten used to five minutes of 3-on-3, but 20 minutes and possibly 40 if you play in the championship game could be quite the workout.

"There are lots of question marks there," Tatar said. "The 3-on-3, you can’t play 3-on-3 a long time. It’s gonna be tough, so we will see. It’s so hard I would even have to see. I have no clue how that will look, but it will look different for sure."

STARTING GOALTENDERS: Blashill said that Petr Mrazek would start Friday against the Los Angeles Kings and Jimmy Howard would go Saturday in St. Louis against the Blues.

It's a bit of a change as Mrazek has usually been the one playing the road game in the back-to-back sets.

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