The Detroit Red Wings look like they may have hit on a formula for having two scoring lines.
Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi have such sparkling chemistry it’s tough to pull them apart, but their split is why the Wings head into Monday’s matinee rematch in Buffalo feeling good about themselves. Almost everything about Saturday’s 4-0 win over the Sabres at Little Caesars Arena was a positive — the special teams play, goalie Alex Nedeljkovic earning a shutout with his grandparents in the stands — and especially so the fact that both of the top lines created scoring chances.
Near the midpoint of the season, the Wings (17-17-5) have gotten most of their offense from Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond and Tyler Bertuzzi, who rank first, second and third on the team in points, respectively. The three have played the majority of their games on the same line, but given the success of Saturday’s experiment, that may not last.
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In an effort to spark the second line, Bertuzzi was the latest to audition next to Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri. Bertuzzi aced the test.
“I think Bert can help any line he goes on,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He can really help. Bert, Fabs and Suits, they looked like they had good chemistry. I thought they were really good. You have a really smart playmaking center, you have a really good shooter in Fabs who plays hard, and you have a guy who can do a little bit of everything, including going to the net hard and being hard on pucks, so I like the makeup of that line.
“Ultimately as we’ve gone through this, too many chances were only generated by the Larkin line. We felt we needed more, and we were looking for it from that line with Fabs and Suits, and Bert definitely filled that role great.”
Vladislav Namestnikov did well in his promotion to playing with Larkin and Raymond, but there may soon be a fresh candidate for the top six forwards. The Wings were counting on Jakub Vrana — acquired at least season’s trade deadline — but he exited training camp with a shoulder injury. He’s finally on the mend and projected to return sometime in February.
The Wings hoped improvement from Filip Zadina could ameliorate the loss of Vrana, but Zadina has 11 points through 37 games. He played Saturday with Michael Rasmussen and Adam Erne on the third line, and Joe Veleno centered the fourth line between Givani Smith and Sam Gagner.
Things change quickly in the NHL, and depending on how Monday goes, the lines may be shuffled again. But at least the Wings have evidence that they can be more than a one-line team.
“I think it’s critical to have balance,” Blashill said. “You then look at it and you really feel like you have two real dangerous offensive lines and then you also feel good about the Ras line and Veleno line, that they can go out and play against anybody. It gives you way more flexibility on the bench. You are not going to win in this league with one line. You have to have multiple lines that can make an impact.”
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.