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Practice articles: Richards out for Friday, Tatar, Smith *probably* in; on ‘constructing lines’

Updated 2x at 4:19 PM: The Red Wings held a quick practice before flying to Buffalo this afternoon, and:

The beat writers informed us that Brad Richards has gone home to Prince Edward Island to attend his grandfather's funeral, and that Richards will miss Friday's game as a result;

The beat writers informed us that Tomas Tatar is getting better as he battles "the flu";

The beat writers informed us that Brendan Smith took a "maintenance day" due to "soreness";

And we learned that Petr Mrazek will play against the Sabres, who are traveling back from Colorado (where they lost 2-1 on Wednesday) this afternoon.

This happened, too:

MLive's Ansar Khan posted the Wings' lines during practice...

#RedWings lines at practice:

After practice, Khan updated the Wings' injury and personal situations...

Richards returned home to attend his grandfather's funeral. He will be back for Saturday's game against Anaheim at Joe Louis Arena.

"Those are things that unfortunately you have to go through in life," coach Jeff Blashill said. "So it's good he's going to get a chance to be with his family."

Defenseman Brendan Smith didn't practice today due to soreness but Blashill said he is expected to play Friday. Tomas Tatar, who missed Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues due to the flu, practiced today; he didn't feel great but should be good to go Friday.

And he explained the aforementioned line changes:

The Abdelkader-Zetterberg-Larkin combination had much success earlier this season. Nyquist will get a rare opportunity to play with Datsyuk.

Helm is struggling offensively, having gone 17 games without a goal (four assists during that span), but Blashill likes the work he does for Datsyuk.

"Pav likes playing with Helmer; Helmer does a lot of the work in terms of getting the puck," Blashill said. "Larkin, Z and Abby had great success through lots of the year. We think Nyquie and Tats are real good players whichever line they're on, so we'll see if this group works."

Blashill said Petr Mrazek will make his fourth consecutive start on Friday, his ninth start in 10 games. He said they will determine after the game who starts in goal on Saturday.

The AP has already issued a Wings-Sabres preview, too:

Coming off consecutive 2-1 losses to Philadelphia - in a shootout - and St. Louis, the Red Wings have scored more than two goals twice in the last 11, highlighted by a 4-3 win at Buffalo on Jan. 2.


Despite a 2-1 home loss to the Sabres (19-24-4) on Dec. 14, Detroit has scored nine regulation goals while going 2-1-0 against them this season. In the midst of a 6-0-1 stretch at Buffalo, the Red Wings have averaged 3.6 goals while winning 28 times and earning at least one point in all but three of the last 34 meetings.

Tomas Tatar has seven goals and two assists in the last seven games against Buffalo, but it's uncertain if he'll be available after being scratched Wednesday because of the flu. Detroit also announced veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall, a key figure on its power play, could miss up to a month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery this week.

The Sabres fell 2-1 at Colorado on Wednesday, their second defeat in six games since losing a season-high six in a row. Also near the bottom of the league averaging 2.28 goals, Buffalo has scored 23 times in those 12 games but has converted 26.5 percent (9 of 34) of its power-play chances in the last 10.

Evander Kane scored with the man-advantage but the Avalanche rallied for two goals in the third period.


Kane has two goals with three assists in the last six games. He scored twice in a 5-4 shootout loss at Detroit on Dec. 1, but hasn't recorded a point in the two meetings since.

Buffalo has allowed 12 goals during its 4-2-0 stretch and killed all 15 penalties in the last five contests.

Detroit's Petr Mrazek has made three straight starts, and owns a 1.15 goals-against average in his last six. He's posted a 2.96 GAA while starting all three against the Sabres this season.

As the Red Wings flew to Buffalo...

The Free Press's Helene St. James reported that the impetus for Blashill's latest line switching came from a conversation with Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper:

"It's funny, I actually talked to Jon Copper on the way home," Blashill said today. "He was talking about the fact that he probably teaches more defense than he ever has ... because the difference in talent here is so minimal that if you don't play good defense, you have no chance. So every coach is making sure they coach good defensively. But there is more to it. Guys block shots more than ever, because they are better protected than ever. Goalie equipment is certainly way better than it ever was. That stuff, I don't worry tons about. We've just got to find ways to generate a little bit more ourselves."

To that effort, Blashill is putting Dylan Larkin back with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader, a trio that was very good earlier in the season.

"The time they spent together as a line, they had lots of success, and it's a line we think can be real productive," Blashill said.


Blashill is a proponent of letting players find chemistry with one another, but has to balance it against not seeing results.

"There is chemistry involved in success with lines," he said. "But when you're not scoring, sometimes you've got to keep looking for answers. For me, it has to make sense. It can't just be a jumbled mess to try. I think the other thing is, when you construct a line, it's easy to think, well, we're just going to put these three skilled players together and they'll be great. As we see every night, you have to go to the net and you have to net-presence, so you have to have somebody on the line that excels at that. You have to have a good mix of speed and skill. If you have a real skilled line that's not fast enough, in today's NHL they get tracked down from behind. So there's lots that go into the combinations."

St. James continues...

And she posted a video of Blashill's comments as well:

Update: Among DetroitRedWings.com's Dana Wakiji's notes:

Brendan Smith did not practice Thursday but should be good enough to play in Buffalo.

"We expect Smith to play tomorrow," Blashill said. "Maintenance day, sore, it’s that time of the year they get bumps and bruises. He needed a day to rest but we expect him to play tomorrow."

Smith took a shot to the throat when St. Louis' Patrik Berglund high-sticked him midway through the second period but remained in the game.

Tomas Tatar, who was a late scratch before the Blues game due to illness, practiced Thursday and is likely to play in Buffalo.

"We expect Tats to be ready tomorrow but he didn't feel great today," Blashill said. "He felt fine."

Tatar is tied with Dylan Larkin for the team lead in goals with 14.

Update #2: Fox 2 posted an 11:52 clip of Jeff Blashill and Gustav Nyquist's off-day comments:

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MurrayChadwick's avatar

“Pav likes playing with Helmer; Helmer does a lot of the work in terms of getting the puck,” Blashill said.


Posted by MurrayChadwick from Window Seat on the Captain's Ship on 01/21/16 at 04:57 PM ET


Pav likes playing with Helmer; Helmer does a lot of the work in terms of getting the puck,” Blashill said.

It does not matter who Pavel likes to play with. He also liked to play with Abby. You put him with Glendening and Miller and he will say he likes them too. Or you put him with Z and Larkin and he will like that as well. The coach has to recognize what’s working and what’s not. Helm is poison in top 6 and makes Dats look 10 years older than he is. He has the puck most of the time because he just takes it full speed to the zone and nobody can catch up with him. Helm is a perfect 4th line grinder, not a good partner for Dats.
Any time Dats is off Helm’s line (being it with Richards or Z), we are seeing a different Dats.

Posted by VPalmer on 01/21/16 at 05:11 PM ET

Bradley97's avatar

We are seeing a different Datsyuk regardless of which line he’s on. He’s lost a step and he’s adjusting to it. But everything you’ve said about Helm is spot on. The Wings would be better served with Helm and Glendenning anchoring a high speed crash line.

Posted by Bradley97 on 01/21/16 at 05:41 PM ET

Hockeytown Wax's avatar

We’re going to play game 47 and Blash still hasn’t figured out who should play with whom ??
Granted, you make a couple of tweaks depending on who we are up against but, so far this season the lines have been different for every game ... and it sounds like he’s still searching for answers.

Why not set lines and let them figure it out for themselves ??  After all, they are professionals ... they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t know what they were doing.

For example ...

Line 1

who plays which position ?  who cares !!
they can play rock paper scissors for all I care ...
just play them together and let them figure it out.

Line 2

Riley and the Slovaks ...
YAY !! ... the band is back together!!
another line you leave alone ... just let them play.

Line 3
Abdelkader-Richards-Nyquist (Helm subbing for Richards)

a line filled with players that have lost or never found their mojo.
maybe constructing a misfit line will help them figure things out together.

Line 4

Yes, I know ... Pulkkinen is not a 4th line grinder built for defence,
but where else are you going to play him ??
Do you give Jurco 4 or 5 games to produce and if he doesn’t then replace him ??
Do you swap him and Abby & tell Abby we need him to play defencively while Miller is out ??
Either way, he’s a fish out of water on the 4th line but he’ll just have to accept it until he starts scoring.

Too much tinkering is just as bad if not worse than total neglect.  Make a line-up and leave it for a few games to see how things shake out.

Posted by Hockeytown Wax from West Bloomfield, Mi. on 01/21/16 at 09:22 PM ET


I don’t mind the line blender—we’re not scoring, so keep mixing it up.

But as I’m always happy to play…when Richards returns…


Posted by captaineclectic on 01/22/16 at 08:22 AM ET


We’re going to play game 47 and Blash still hasn’t figured out who should play with whom ??

Babcock didn’t figure that out in all his years in Detroit.

I don’t mind the line blender—we’re not scoring, so keep mixing it up.

On the one hand sure, but on the other hand maybe when you switch up the lines you should give them a chance to develop some chemistry rather than mixing them up again after four shifts.

Posted by Garth on 01/22/16 at 10:39 AM ET

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