DETROIT -- Teemu Pulkkinen will be keeping his head up tonight.
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill is rewarding Pulkkinen for his energy and skating by putting him on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Brad Richards.
"Those guys, they can pass the puck for sure," Pulkkinen said. "My job is kind of bring some energy, skate hard, try to create some turnovers and then for sure find the open spot."
Richards is returning after missing 13 games with a back injury.
Pulkkinen led the AHL with 34 goals in 46 games last season with the Grand Rapids Griffins and is now getting a chance to show he can produce at the NHL level.
"He’s getting a little extra opportunity tonight that he hasn’t gotten so far this year," Blashill said. "Even though I have lots of faith in him, I still have lots of faith in lots of guys in the room. When you get the extra opportunities you’ve got to really grab it."
The Wings have had trouble scoring in general this season and Pulkkinen could certainly help. He's tied with Tomas Tatar for third on the team in goals with five.
"Obviously he’s a guy who can put the puck in the net," Blashill said. "I believe he’s a guy who can score on any goalie in the world with his shot because of how good a shot it is. I think Richie and Pav both can score, but they’re both elite passers of the puck. We hope it’s a good combination. We won’t know until we get out there playing."
Gustav Nyquist leads the Wings with seven goals and Dylan Larkin is second with six.
"I got a couple goals, it's OK but I know I can play better," Pulkkinen said. "I think I have to improve my game. I have to play better every game. If I'm not good enough, I'm not in the lineup so that's why I'm here to work hard in the games, in the practices. That's what I try to do every time, just work hard every game."
Blashill said Pulkkinen has done fairly well scoring 5-on-5 but could be more productive on the power play.
Pulkkinen also has to make sure to use his energy wisely.
"When he gets himself in trouble is when he doesn’t stop," Blashill said. "If he stops defensively and faces the puck all over the ice he’s a real effective player."
SMITH BACK IN LINEUP: Defenseman Brendan Smith can't wait to get back in the lineup after missing five games due to illness.
Smith would feel better and then worsen so it was a good sign that he felt good this morning.
"Coach actually talked to me this morning and said if I’m feeling good enough to go, and I’m good, so it’s exciting," Smith said.
Smith has one goal and one assist and is plus-3 in 12 games this season.
"I think when Smitty’s at his best he minimizes mistakes with the puck," Blashill said. "He’s jumping up in the play, putting pressure on other teams with his ability to jump up in the play and also with his ability to be active in the O-zone. I think that’s something that he does real well. I think he’s got good offensive instincts. Again I remember him as a forward when he was a minor midget. He’s got real good offensive instincts and then he also brings I’d say a toughness more than a physicality. You know you’re going to pay a price when you come to our net. He’s not afraid of anybody."
Smith will be paired with Alexey Marchenko, which means Jakub Kindl will be the odd man out.
Smith has also been a healthy scratch this season so he knows he needs to play well to stay in the lineup.
"I think we’ve got a lot of competition, a lot of good guys here, so you want to make sure you’re playing your best when you’re out there so you’re not losing your spot," Smith said. "I don’t want to be out too long where I could possibly be giving up that spot, so I’m excited to get back in there and show what I can do.
"Mainly, I just want to help the team win, that’s my biggest thing and I think I can help the team do that."
BY THE NUMBERS: The Wings have won their last six home games against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Wings who have had success against the Kings are:
Henrik Zetterberg with 17 goals and 20 assists in 39 games; Datsyuk with 16 goals and 17 assists in 40 games; Brad Richards with 11 goals and 20 assists in 29 games; Niklas Kronwall with three goals and 13 assists in 28 games.
The Kings who have had success against the Wings are:
Anze Kopitar with nine goals and 16 assists in 29 games; Marian Gaborik with seven goals and 11 assists in 28 games; Christian Ehrhoff with five goals and 10 assists in 32 games; Dustin Brown with five goals and nine assists in 34 games.