Why the Detroit Red Wings feel they can go ‘on a little run’ as season resumes

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Help is on the horizon for the Detroit Red Wings, even if not to the extent desired.

After taking advantage of a four-day break to rest and reset during a hectic season, the Wings returned to practice Sunday at Little Caesars Arena. Captain Dylan Larkin was on the ice after missing the last four games, a good sign he’ll be available if not for Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, then probably Thursday’s. He practiced on a line with Robby Fabbri and Anthony Mantha, leaving intact Vladislav Namestnikov with Filip Zadina — a pairing that has looked quite good during Larkin’s absence. Sam Gagner has been on the line, as has Bobby Ryan.

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“I think Vladdy’s game has been exponentially better at center, and I think Fabs’ game has been the same whether it’s center or wing,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It allows us potentially to move Fabs to wing and let him play with Larkin and Mantha. Vladdy has been with Zadina and he’s been with Gagner lots, and some with Bobby Ryan as well. We are just trying to find the right combinations.”

Tyler Bertuzzi hasn’t practiced since leaving the Jan. 30 game with an upper-body injury. Blashill said Bertuzzi is progressing but didn’t have a timeline for a return. He also didn’t think it would be such a long absence when it first happened.

“I would have given you better insight if I did think that,” Blashill said. “It’s been a longer process than we realized, and that happens sometimes.”

The Wings miss Bertuzzi’s knack for scoring around the net. But at least Larkin, whose 11 points are second on the team behind Ryan (13), boosts a lineup that has been outscored 16–5 during a three-game skid. He and Mantha certainly have crackled with chemistry in the past, and Mantha could use a jumpstart with just one point in 10 games.

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Zadina has five points since gaining Namestnikov as a linemate five games ago. Ryan adds a scoring threat and playmaking ability.

“It brings the ability to have some offensive guys play together that can make some high-end plays hopefully and give us more ability to be more dangerous offensively,” Blashill said. “We hope so. I think Vladdy is the key piece to that, though, because he has done a really good job of being a really accountable center, and that’s a really critical part to it. Ultimately we have to let less goals in than we have in the last three games.”

Both Ryan and Gagner are former top-10 picks — Ryan at second overall in 2005; Gagner at sixth in 2007 — and have a calmness about their game that can help Zadina, 21, who was drafted sixth in 2018. It’s similar to how Larkin spent his rookie season on a line with Henrik Zetterberg.

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“It helps a ton, just the wisdom and how they approach the game,” Larkin said. “Bobby has got a great approach. He’s got a great attitude. He’s someone that loves being a Red Wing. I think the biggest thing with Bobby, too, is he makes plays. He has the puck on his stick and he understands how valuable that is. He’s not looking to just throw it away, he’s looking to make plays and make his linemates better and put them in a better spot for them to make a play than he has.

“Even just talking with him and knowing Zadina, I know they talk about that and they continue to work. I think with Z, just shooting the puck — I know Bobby has been telling him that: just put it on net, make something happen by creating chaos around the net. You saw two go in last game where he just shot it, and it was good to see.”

Between losing five players, including Zadina, Gagner and Fabbri, to COVID-19 for two weeks in January and a slew of injuries, the Wings haven’t really been able to showcase the depth it looked like they would have before the season began. They’re 7-16-3, but as they heal the hope is they can rise from the bottom spot in the Central Division.

“We knew it was going to be a challenging year with COVID and there were going to be a lot of things thrown at us,” Larkin said. “I think we‘ve had to deal with a lot, probably more so than other teams, having to play through our little stretch where we had guys missing, for whatever reason.

“We played and we handled it, but there is some excitement that guy are coming back and hopefully we can get to where we have our full lineup and see what can happen and get on a little run. That would be really nice.”

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Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill: How four-day break affects team

Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill, March 7, 2021.

Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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