The Detroit Red Wings came into this season believing better depth would give them the ability to spread offensive players across three lines.
Two weeks from the end of the season, that happened just once.
Captain Dylan Larkin is the latest forward to join a swollen sick bay; coach Jeff Blashill cautioned that Larkin could be out a while with an upper-body injury — not that there’s much longer left in the season, as the Wings’ finale is scheduled for May 8. Tyler Bertuzzi and Bobby Ryan already have been ruled out for the season, and Robby Fabbri is considered day-to-day but he hasn’t played since April 3.
That’s a substantial loss of players who log significant minutes at even strength and on the power play.
“Without those guys, we’re not as deep, that’s the reality,” Blashill said Thursday. “Coming into the season, we weren’t as deep as some teams are. What I do know is we have to be a hard team to play against these last games for us to enjoy that feeling of victory.
“How do you absorb injuries? One, you have to be really good defensively. Because without Larks, without Fabs, without Bert, without Bobby Ryan, we’ve lost firepower upfront. I don’t think we were a super high-scoring team to begin the year with, and certainly we’ve lost a lot of firepower. Really it goes along with the themes of the season, but it’s even more essential — we have to be great defensively.”
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Veteran Frans Nielsen is also done for the season with an undisclosed injury.
Injuries are a part of professional sports, but that doesn’t lessen what a rotten situation this has been for the Wings. There was so much enthusiasm during training camp in early January, and not just because it meant the end of a 10-month layoff forced by the pandemic. It looked like the Wings would have a scoring line beyond Larkin, Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha in Fabbri’s line with Ryan and Zadina — and that Vladislav Namestnikov and Sam Gagner would help make a third line dangerous offensively.
After Ryan missed the first game because of injury, those lines played in the second game, on Jan. 16.
By the third game, Fabbri was in COVID-19 protocol; by the fifth game, so was Zadina. By the time they were cleared to play, Bertuzzi had left the Jan. 30 game with a back injury.
Blashill said it has not been determined if Bertuzzi will need surgery. He had a great start to the season, with five goals and two assists in nine games.
“It’s a great reminder for us how special every day is, how special every game is,” Blashill said “It’s been unfortunate for Bert. The focus for Bert is getting himself so he’s healthy at the start of next season.”
Newcomer Jakub Vrana, who was acquired at the trade deadline in the Mantha deal, and youngsters such as Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen are among those who will be counted on to ameliorate the loss of so many top-six forwards. Joe Veleno is another possibility, once he is cleared to play.
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“Offensively, Vrana is definitely somebody who, when we made the trade, we talked about him filling some of the offense that Mantha had, and he can certainly do that,” Blashill said. “He’s got to contribute a high amount offensively, Zadina has to contribute offensively a high amount; those are guys that I think have played pretty well. Zadina’s growth has been really good, we are just going to continue to need a little more production. We are going to have score dirty goals, and that’s were a guy like Ras, I think he’s going to score around the net. He has to make sure he does that here over this stretch.
“Everybody’s responsibility goes up a little bit, specifically when it comes to production.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.