Ted Kulfan | The Detroit News
Detroit — This is what the Red Wings envisioned, and what the organization felt was possible if the entire roster was whole.
Minus the injuries and, this year the COVID-19 protocols, maybe the Red Wings could have looked something like this before now. Take Thursday night’s 6-4 victory over Tampa Bay, along with Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Lightning.
The Red Wings earned three of a possible four points against the defending Stanley Cup champions, which is cause for a back slap when you also consider this was the first regulation-time victory by the Wings over Tampa Bay since 1995, over a span of 20 games.
In a season where the Wings haven’t won much (8-16-4), these two games with largely a healthy, full roster, showed a team capable of earning points in the standings.
“It allows us to be more complete as a team,” coach Jeff Blashill said of the full roster. “We don’t have enough difference-making players to lose them. When we lost a number of guys, it hurt us, and when we’ve been healthy, we’ve played pretty good hockey overall. We haven’t won enough, but we’ve played pretty good.
“To come out and get three points here against Tampa is a good thing for us.
“Now we have to build on it.”
Blashill talked earlier in the week, when analyzing the first half of the season, about how the Wings were a difficult team to play against when the roster was full.
But injuries and players out with COVID-19 began to decimate the roster from the opening weeks, and the Wings simply don’t have the depth yet to overcome that.
“We’ve put teams on heels at times and been physical. That’s been the good part about it when we’ve had a full roster,” Blashill said. “The bad would be when we haven’t had a full enough roster, I don’t think we’ve handled that well enough. We’ve probably needed more guys to step up, and in general, I don’t think we’ve had the production that we would have hoped across the board.
“We’ve had chances and not enough production.
“We need more of that, but that comes in time.”
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Maybe the first step was a victory like Thursday’s, with the Wings capitalizing on scoring chances, different players scoring, and having a full roster at their disposal.
The Wings welcomed back Dylan Larkin on Tuesday, after missing four games, and Larkin scored in each game against Tampa.
The Red Wings also saw Troy Stecher return Thursday after missing nine games, and the defenseman opened Thursday’s scoring with a nice goal.
Six different Wings scored Thursday, and getting unexpected offense from the likes of Stecher and Luke Glendening certainly helped earn the victory.
“We need that depth of scoring for sure,” Blashill said.
The lone regular currently out of the lineup — and he has been for over a month — is Tyler Bertuzzi. The Wings miss many of Bertuzzi’s attributes, but in pro sports, injuries will occur and teams have to adjust.
“We’d love to have Bert, too, but everyone is in that situation,” Blashill said.
“It’s just not here, it’s the reality of life in the NHL.”
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This has been a miserable first half of the season for Anthony Mantha.
The offensive production has been down, and Mantha was largely unnoticeable in too many games.
But Mantha had a goal and two assists Thursday — he could have an empty-net goal, but instead passed the puck to equally wide open Vladislav Namestnikov — and used his size and speed effectively against Tampa’s elite defense.
“He’s one of those guys that when he plays against big, strong, great defensemen, he can still create plays,” Blashill said. “He’s got the ability to play against those guys because he has that kind of skill-set.
“He’s actually played real good in the last little bit. He’s done a really good job of moving his feet, bending his knees and skating.”