Red Wings like goaltender mix with Jonathan Bernier, newcomer Thomas Greiss

Detroit News

Ted Kulfan
| The Detroit News

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Detroit — One position where the Red Wings feel pretty confident in is their goaltending.

In veterans Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss, the Wings might have the ability to have a steady brand of goaltending that can give them a chance to win games.

It’s a quirky position, and optimism can change to despair quickly.

But through the early training camp workouts, the reviews are good, and the optimism real.

“Two real good goalies, and both are real good pros,” coach Jeff Blashill said.

The Wings had something similar with Bernier and longtime Red Wing Jimmy Howard for the last two seasons.

But Howard had the worst season of his career last season, 2-23-2, and the Wings, understandably given Howard’s performance and age (36), decided to go in a different direction this summer when Howard became a free agent.

General manager Steve Yzerman signed Greiss, an unrestricted free agent, to a 2-year contract worth $7.2 million in October to replace Howard.

Greiss, 34, has fit in well with how the Wings have been constructed this season.

“He’s a great pro; he works,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He does whatever. He does all the work, he’ll stay out with the guys and take shots. Both he and Bernier have looked good.

“If you get both going at a high level, it helps your depth.”

Greiss and Bernier didn’t know each other heading into the season, but had a few mutual acquaintances.

They are beginning to form a working relationship, something that’s always helpful with two NHL goaltenders on any roster.

“It always makes it a lot easier,” Greiss said. “He’s a great guy and I’m looking forward to playing with him.”

Bernier talked about the long time away from game action the other day, and the difficulty of regaining the ability to work through traffic in front of a goaltender’s eyes and find shots.

Greiss agreed, and viewed the final two intrasquad scrimmages as a chance to get valuable work in.

“I’m looking forward to playing two more games again and getting my game,” Greiss said. “Getting the reads back and better timing, but overall I feel good and ready to go.”

With the 56-game shortened schedule, and numerous back-to-back sets on the docket, most analysts have assumed most teams will be using a definitive goalie tandem.

But Blashill talked Thursday about how during the 48-game shortened lockout season, a larger number of teams leaned heavily on one goalie, and in college hockey — which uses a similar condensed, back-to-back schedule — one goalie is often used extensively.

And if one goaltender separates from the other with his play, Blashill is likely to stick with the hot goalie.

But, for now, it appears the combination of Bernier and Greiss makes the position a strength.

“We have two guys who are real good,” Blashill said.

Injury update

The only update on forward Evgeny Svechnikov on Thursday continued to sound similar to what was relayed on Tuesday.

Blashill said Svechnikov was “unfit to play,” the new catch-all phrase that takes in either illness or injury, and became the NHL’s norm during the summer’s Return To Play.

Svechnikov was hurt during Tuesday’s scrimmage when he was hit behind the net during a scrum and immediately appeared to be favoring his right arm.

Darren Helm (unfit to play) continues to be off the ice, as well, and no timetable is being provided for Helm’s return, either.

Forward Turner Elson, one of the key players on the Wings’ minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins, was also hurt during Tuesday’s scrimmage (knee) but did take part in Thursday’s practice.

Real hockey

The Wings’ have their second scheduled scrimmage Friday, this one at the practice rink, and Blashill is hoping for his players to take another step toward the regular season opener on Jan. 14.

“The intensity has to be high,” said Blashill, who felt the intensity was lacking somewhat Tuesday. “We want to lose the bad summer habits and create good, winning habits. Make it as real hockey as we can.”

Blashill said there will be specific work on specialty teams, with lineups set to fill those possible power plays and penalty kills.

Players recognize the importance of putting together a consistent, high-level effort scrimmage, with no exhibition games this season.

“There’s always a next level to raise the intensity in order to prepare for NHL games,” defenseman Jon Merrill said. “You can’t emulate the battle level in practice. We do our best in practice and give everything we have, but we have to ramp it up and get ready for Carolina (for the season opener).”

Hopeful power play

The Wings had the 29th-ranked power play last season — it was 31st and last for most of the season — and it’s been a source of frustration and disappointment for several seasons.

But with the depth that’s been created this offseason, Blashill is confident the Wings can put two competent and dangerous power plays on the ice.

“Our power play hasn’t been good enough, nor has any player been productive enough on the power play,” Blashill said. “I want to create two units and I hope they are super competitive, and I hope they both play great.”

Tentatively, Blashill has Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Bobby Ryan, Tyler Bertuzzi and Danny DeKeyser on one unit, while Sam Gagner, Filip Zadina, Robby Fabbri, Merrill and Filip Hronek are on the other unit.

Blashill was adamant about not labeling one or the other a No. 1 or No. 2 power play, and wants to create chemistry in these remaining days, while leaving open the possibility of making changes in either unit.

“We have to figure out who is going to be in our lineup and then who are the best guys to run those units,” Blashill said.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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