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Smith could return

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Wings coach Jeff Blashill does not think Dylan Larkin is hitting the 'rookie wall.' (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

GROSSE POINTE WOODS, Mich. -- If things go the way they were in practice Friday, Brendan Smith will return to the lineup Sunday.

Smith practiced in a pair with Mike Green at Grosse Pointe Woods' University Liggett School while Alexey Marchenko practiced as the extra defenseman.

But Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he has not made a final decision yet.

"We looked at it today, with him back in," Blashill said. "I just reserve the right to look at it in practice then decide what we’ll do tomorrow and then decide what we’ll do Sunday."

Smith last played in the Wings' 2-1 shootout win against the Columbus Blue Jackets Feb. 23.

"You’re always disappointed when you don’t get called in and you can’t play," Smith said. "That’s just like everybody, if you don’t get the job, or whatever, you’re frustrated, and so what do you do to get that back? You work hard and you try to do your best to get that job back, and I’m getting that chance. So if I do get that chance I want to give it everything and make sure I keep it."

Blashill has said several times that Smith did not do anything wrong to be taken out of the lineup.

"I’ve got seven, in my opinion, NHL defensemen that I can only play six of them," Blashill said. "We’re splitting hairs a little bit on who goes in and who goes out. I think as a D corps we have to make sure to get the puck out of our own end. Not by throwing it away, but preferably going tape-to-tape. If we don’t have a play it’s got to be a hard play into space or we have to eat it. We can’t turn pucks over and he’s certainly included in that. When he’s at his best he’s managing the puck well and he’s involved in the play, both on the rush and in the O zone. That’s what he’ll need to do to help us win a hockey game on Sunday."

Smith said he was able to observe some things during the Wings' 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks Wednesday night.

"Just some little things that my game can help, just breaking out quick so that we’re playing in the offensive zone and being a little more competitive in some areas, just some speed in general," Smith said. "So I think that’s something I can bring to the team. I hope that will help the team continue to be in the playoffs and even jump a little bit higher, maybe take first (place) back."

HITTING ROOKIE WALL OR NOT: Dylan Larkin has been remarkably consistent for a rookie this season, second only to captain Henrik Zetterberg on the team in scoring with 39 points to Zetterberg's 41 points.

But things haven't gone as smoothly production-wise in the last five games.

Larkin has not recorded a point and is minus-2.

Blashill is not concerned about Larkin hitting a rookie wall.

"I think it’s just more the ebb and flow of the season," Blashill said. "Everybody goes through ups and downs. Pav (Pavel Datsyuk) and Z (Zetterberg) were hot when we put them together and then they went through a stretch when they didn’t score for a bit. That’s just the reality. You can’t be hot the whole season long. That’s not different than Petr Mrazek in the month of January with a .956 or something like that save percentage, you can’t keep that up, the same thing with Dylan Larkin. I don’t think it’s a wall. I think he’s looked good here the last few games."

Zetterberg agreed that there's no worrying about Larkin.

"You'll have ups and downs during the season and everyone goes through it," Zetterberg said. "I think he's doing all the little things right. Maybe the production is not as up as it was at the beginning, but as long as he works hard as he does, he'll be fine."

Larkin still leads the team with 19 goals and a plus-19 rating.

RIVALRY RENEWED: Larkin got his first taste of the United Center in the preseason but a regular-season game is even more spirited.

It will also be Blashill's first regular-season game there as the head coach.

"I got a little bit in the preseason and then when I was an assistant here," Blashill said. "It’s a great, fun place to play. We all look forward to going to fun places to play and this is certainly one of the more fun places to play in the league."

Zetterberg remembers it was not always that way.

"First couple years when I played there it was really quiet, not much going on except our fans and then it really took a quick turn and their fans are really loud and it's one of the loudest arenas in the league," Zetterberg said.

The Blackhawks have won three of the last six Stanley Cup championships, including last season.

Yet somehow they have gotten better, adding Artemi Panarin, who leads all rookies with 59 points (24 goals).

"Special player," Larkin said. "Lots of skill, he works well with (Patrick) Kane. To be successful against Chicago you’re going to have to shut him and Kane down and then you just have to worry about (Jonathan) Toews’ line. They have a lot of weapons there."

Blashill said the Wings weren't good enough defensively against the Blackhawks and made a point of it during practice.

"You can’t give up that many odd-number rushes," Blashill said. "We tried to work on two areas today. One was getting the puck out of our end and the other was to make sure we don’t give up odd-number rushes."

Zetterberg had another good idea for Sunday.

"Stay out of the box," Zetterberg said. "I think that really turned the game there when both me and Kronner (Niklas Kronwall) went up there. That 5-on-3, scored right away and then scored on the PP. Overall, I thought we played a decent game. They're really skilled when they get time, just got to try to minimize that. We're looking forward to a fun game on Sunday."

Blashill said he would announce Sunday's starting goaltender in Chicago.

Z ON 900: Zetterberg took a moment to reflect on hitting the 900-game milestone this past Wednesday, something Datsyuk accomplished 36 games ago.

"Me and Pav spent so much time together here in Detroit and to be able to get those close to each other, it means a lot for us," Zetterberg said. "Obviously it's a big thing for me to be able to do that with one club and 900 goes fast.

"I've been playing with a lot of great players and it's been a lot of fun. Probably won't be 900 more but hopefully I got a few left in me."

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