Red Wings’ Pulkkinen ends drought, still has more to learn

Teemu Pulkkinen earned his first NHL goal midway through the first period on a perfect pass from Stephen Weiss.

Rick Osentoski

DETROIT — When you’re a scorer and you aren’t scoring, it can be a difficult thing for a young player to handle.

That’s what Teemu Pulkkinen was dealing with coming into Tuesday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

When the Red Wings called up Pulkkinen, he had tied a Grand Rapids (AHL) Griffins’ record by scoring in eight straight games.

But the NHL is a different league, which Pulkkinen realized when he failed to record a point in his first six games this season.

Midway through the first period, Pulkkinen got to the slot and used his hard slap shot on a perfect pass from Stephen Weiss to beat Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

"I was waiting for six games now so it was good to get that," Pulkkinen said. "Obviously it was a great pass from Weisser. I kind of had an easy job there because I was in the middle and I just shoot it."

The only thing better than scoring your first NHL goal is assisting on someone’s first NHL goal.

"I didn’t get to see him right away," Weiss said. "I went to grab the puck, but he still had a big smile by the time I got back there. Anytime you can factor in on someone’s first goal is pretty special. Everyone remembers those ones."

Defenseman Brendan Smith got the second assist on Pulkkinen’s goal.

"It’s definitely exciting because it’s something that you’ll always remember," Smith said. "The funny thing is I actually scored my first goal against Minnesota as well so it’s kind of cool. His goal was a lot nicer than mine. Mine was a backdoor, tap-in kind of thing. He’s been getting some chances, some looks, and he finally put one in."

Just because you get your first NHL goal doesn’t mean you get to rest on your laurels.

While the rest of Pulkkinen’s Red Wings teammates head off for a quick vacation, Pulkkinen will return to Grand Rapids to play three home games and then in the AHL All-Star Game on Jan. 26.

"Obviously he’s got some things to learn," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I went through it with him right now. I’m going to send those clips to Blash (Griffins coach Jeff Blashill), too, so Blash knows exactly what he needs to work at. He adds that dimension of being able to shoot the puck, he’s tenacious. 

"He should be able to play in the National Hockey League. He’s just got to fix some things."

If the Wings are still without Johan Franzen and Tomas Jurco after the All-Star break, Pulkkinen will likely get another chance.

Now that the first-goal monkey is off his back, Pulkkinen should have a little more confidence and a better idea of what he needs to do to score at the NHL level.

"He’s got an absolute bomb of a shot," Smith said. "I think the thing he’s got to learn is how to get rid of it quicker because here is a lot different than the AHL because you don’t have as much time and space and guys like to block shots.

"There’s a few little things that he can tweak and he could be one of the top shots in the league."

NOTE: Defenseman Xavier Ouellet, who scored his second career goal Tuesday, also made the AHL All-Star team but won’t participate.

"His wrist isn’t great right now anyways, so we’re going to give some time to get a breather," Babcock said.