Red Wings’ Namestnikov enjoying increase in offensive production

Detroit News

St. Louis — Last season was a strange experience for everyone in the NHL, with the pandemic raging and a long list of measures taken to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Vladislav Namestnikov joined a new team, the Red Wings, making things doubly difficult.

“Last year was just a weird year,” Namestnikov said after Thursday’s morning skate, noting all the protocols and challenges for staff and players.

Namestnikov’s season didn’t go as planned. He signed a two-year contract worth $4 million ($2 million salary cap hit per season) as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020. The 29-year-old had just eight goals and nine assists for 17 points, playing 53 games in the shortened season.

Namestnikov was disappointed with his production. He worked on his shot last summer, and is now producing the way the Wings envisioned.

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Heading into Thursday’s game against St. Louis, Namestnikov has eight goals and 14 points in just 26 games.

“I’m just more comfortable,” Namestnikov said of the difference. “In the room, I’m just more comfortable and I know the systems now.”

Namestnikov has thrived on a line with Michael Rasmussen and Adam Erne. Coach Jeff Blashill put together the group early in the season. They largely have stayed together , given the potential at both ends of the rink.

Namestnikov is the smallest on the line. But plays the same grinding style as Rasmussen and Erne.

“We just get pucks into the corners and grind from there and kind of make things happen,” Namestnikov said. “They are two big guys, big bodies. So the chances of them getting (control of) the puck in the corners is pretty big. It’s just the simplicity and getting pucks to the point and crashing the net and it’s been working.”

Blashill inserted Namestnikov on the power play during Wednesday’s practice.

“He is slippery around the net,” Blashill said. “He’s played real good hockey and he’s found the back of the net.”

Roster juggling

The Wings recalled defenseman Brian Lashoff from Grand Rapids. Earlier in the week they recalled defenseman Luke Witkowski.

Detroit is without defenseman Gustav Lindstrom (lower body) and Marc Staal (COVID protocol) on this two-game trip. Defenseman Filip Hronek is playing through an injury. He was expected to play Thursday, Blashill said.

Forward Tyler Bertuzzi (COVID protocol) is unavailable. Defenseman Danny DeKeyser just returned off the protocol list.

“We are on a back-to-back road trip, and we have enough COVID cases that we’re kind of in enhanced measures where we’re testing multiple times a day on game days,” Blashill said. “We felt it was extremely prudent to make sure we have enough players here if we happen to get hit on the road, with either injuries or COVID, that we would field a full team.”

Lashoff has spent parts of seven seasons in the NHL and has 136 games of experience.

Ice chips

Namestnikov is in regular contact with his uncle, former Wings forward Slava Kozlov, who is coaching in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.

“We message each other on what’s happening every week, we stay in touch,” Namestnikov said. “It’s tough because he has games in Russia he’s coaching, in Moscow, so the time difference is hard. But we text quite a bit.

“It’s more family stuff, how are you doing, stuff like that. But we talk hockey sometimes. It’s hard for him to watch the games here, but we talk.”

… Draft picks defensemen Simon Edvinsson (2021 first round) and forward Theodor Niederbach (2020 second round) have been selected to play for Sweden in the world junior championship later this month. Defenseman Eemil Viro (2020 third round) was selected for Finland.

Viro was injured on an ugly hit along the boards Wednesday, with the severity of the injury currently unknown.

… Blashill wants to see the Wings spend more time in the offensive zone and get more pucks on net. The Wings rank 28th in shots per game (28.4).

“(Tuesday) was a prime example of where we didn’t shoot the puck when we had opportunities to shoot,” Blashill said. “Ultimately, we haven’t spent enough time in the offensive zone compared to our own zone. Probably the biggest factor in that is being careless with the puck, trying to force pucks that aren’t there.”

Red Wings at Avalanche

Faceoff: 9 p.m., Friday, Ball Arena, Denver

TV/radio: BSD+/97.1

Outlook: The Avalanche (14-7-2) have won three of their last four games (3-0-1) and are producing offense. Colorado leads the NHL with 4.26 goals per game. … RW Mikko Rantanen (12 goals), C Nazem Kadri (11 goals) and D Cale Makar (11 goals) head a lengthy list of dangerous goal scorers.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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