DETROIT – The Red Wings will be without two significant pieces to the roster for the next six weeks.
The club announced Friday that Drew Miller will have surgery Saturday to repair a fractured jaw, and that Teemu Pulkkinen could miss up to eight weeks as he begins to recover from a dislocated shoulder.
Both forwards were injured during the first period of Thursday’s 5-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at Joe Louis Arena.
“Those are two guys that are big part of us and who we are and certainly I don’t like to see guys go down,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said.
Pulkkinen’s injury occurred as he was hit from behind by Coyotes center Martin Hanzal and crashed into the boards. Hanzal received a two-minute minor penalty for boarding.
A few minutes later, Miller was involved in a vicious collision with Klas Dahlbeck in front of the Coyotes’ bench. The Wings’ fourth-line grinder was hurt as Dahlbeck drove his shoulder through Miller’s chin.
Miller was slow to get up, but when he did he was wobbly and in trouble. Fortunately, linesman Ryan Galloway was nearby to grab Miller and lead him to the Wings’ bench.
“Looked like a heavy hit,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said Friday. “Obviously hit Drew right in the jaw with his shoulder. That hurt. It looked like a clean hit to me, just hit him in a bad spot.”
The 31-year-old Miller is the Red Wings’ ironman, having played in 190 straight games. Not even some 60 stitches to close a ghastly cut under his right eye last March prevented Miller from continuing his streak.
“It’s never easy to see somebody go down or see your teammate get hurt,” Wings forward Darren Helm said. “Millsie’s a tough guy. He should be able to bounce back hopefully as soon as he can. He brings a lot to this hockey team. He’s pretty fearless on the PK. He’s blocking a lot of shots for our team, doing a lot of good things. He forechecks hard, he’s a big element of this team to miss, and we just hope for a quick recovery and gets back as soon as he can.
Miller has established himself as one of the league’s elite penalty killers. He set a personal best and led all league forwards with 99 blocks last season. It was the highest single-season total by a league forward in seven seasons.
Miller was off to another excellent season, ranking third among NHL forwards with 30 blocks in 26 games this season.
The 23-year-old Pulkkinen is sixth in team scoring with six goals and 11 points in 24 games. His loss will be felt on the Wings’ power play where his powerful slap shot from the face-off dot can be a difference maker.
But the Wings do not anticipating having to recall a forward or two from AHL Grand Rapids. Instead, Blashill intends to draw Joakim Andersson and Tomas Jurco into Saturday’s lineup when the Wings host the Nashville Predators at JLA.
“From a team aspect, one of the things that’s extremely important in today’s sports – and certainly in the NHL – is you have to rely on your depth,” Blashill said. “Everyone’s going to go through injuries, we have at different points this year. … So our depth has to come in and be great. I have full confidence that we can do that. Jurco and Andersson are both in the lineup tomorrow night. They haven’t been sitting because they haven’t played well enough, they’ve actually both played good when they’ve been in. Now they get an opportunity to play a little bit more.”
With Miller done through mid-January, that leaves Gustav Nyquist as the team’s new ironman. The Swedish forward, whose nine goals is tied with Tomas Tatar for second in team scoring, has played in 152 straight games.
Tatar (143), Luke Glendening (131) and Jonathan Ericsson (108) are next in line for the team lead in consecutive games played.
EUROTWINS TOGETHER AGAIN: The injuries to Miller and Pulkkinen had Blashill switching things with the forward lines at practice Friday afternoon, most notably the reunion of Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. The veteran scorers were joined by Justin Abdelkader.
“It looks like we’re going to start with that,” Blashill said. “Those are things that we may change through the game, but we’ll start with those two guys together.”
November’s rookie of the month, Dylan Larkin practiced on the third line with Helm and Brad Richards, while Andersson and Jurco joined Glendeing on the new-look fourth line.
The line of Tatar, Nyquist and Riley Sheahan will remain the same.
“They’ve been arguably our best line night in, night out in the past 5, 6,7 games,” Blashill said of Sheahan’s line. “I don’t see any reason to disrupt that line. Sometimes when you disrupt things like that you hurt the whole group. So we’re going to keep them together right now.”
Despite the injuries, Blashill is confident that the Wings have four lines that can all score.
“Pav and Z are at a spot in their games where we think it’s beneficial for them to play together and Abby’s been a good third guy for them in the past,” Blashill said. “And then Larkin-Helm-Richie we think can be real dynamic. Glennie, Jurcs and Andy can be a real good line, too. So we think we’re in a spot where four lines can be successful.”
NOTES: Blashill confirmed on Friday that Petr Mrazek will get the start Saturday against the Predators (13-8-4). Mrazek is 7-4-3 with a 2.30 goals-against aveverage this season.