Red Wings building toward being deep, four-line team as Jakub Vrana nears return

Detroit News

Detroit — All hockey teams aspire to have four competitive lines that can drive the play, have different strengths, and wear down opposing teams.

The Red Wings are inching toward that sort of lineup.

They had multiple lines score in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime victory over Carolina — as they did in Saturday’s loss to Toronto — and appear to have the foundation for the type of four-line team that could create match-up issues for opponents.

“When your lines go out and they play good and they earn your trust, then you can just keep rolling them out there,” Blashill said. “You’re rolling your lines over and you become the four-line team that everybody wants to be, in order to have success.”

Currently, Blashill has a scoring line of Dylan Larkin between Vladislav Namestnikov and Lucas Raymond that has been productive. Pius Suter between Tyler Bertuzzi and Robby Fabbri clicked immediately when put together, went silent for a few games, but have largely been effective.

The newly formed line of Michael Rasmussen, Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina has had good stretches in a pair of games, with Rasmussen scoring goals in both games and Veleno looking assertive offensively.

More: Wings’ Michael Rasmussen evolving into an offensive contributor

The fourth line of Carter Rowney centering Sam Gagner and Adam Erne also has provided a boost, with Rowney scoring in two consecutive games and Gagner scoring against Toronto.

And this is all before the insertion of Jakub Vrana back into the lineup.

Vrana has yet to play a game this season after shoulder surgery during training camp. But Vrana has been practicing, increasing his workload in recent days, and might be close to returning.

Vrana had eight goals in 11 games after arriving from Washington (in a trade for Anthony Mantha) last trade deadline. A restricted free agent, Vrana re-signed with the Wings for a three-year contract worth $15.75 million ($5.25 million per/salary cap hit) showing the level of faith the Wings have in his ability.

When Vrana re-enters the lineup, Blashill will have the luxury of adding a proven scorer to a lineup that is getting deeper and increasingly dangerous.

“He’s a guy that adds a different element for us,” said Gagner, who has consistently keyed the bottom two lines. “He is one of those kind of self-drivers of offense that can do it on his own. He can really break a game open with his speed and skill and his ability to finish.

“He’s going to be a big boost for our lineup. We’re excited to have him back.”

Vrana’s impact on a Wings’ team that has been clinging to a .500 record could be significant.

“The way we’ve played, and we’re building, it’s exciting,” Gagner said. “But you have to keep doing it night after night. I love where we’re trending but you have to keep pushing forward. We’re trending in the right direction. The way we played defensively created all kinds offense for us last game, so we just have to keep building on that.”

The spark from players such as Rasmussen and Rowney, with important and timely goals, is something successful teams thrive on.

“The best teams have that, where guys are contributing throughout the lineup in a lot of different ways,” Gagner said. “Our line, specifically, we talked about that, about being a line that can be relied upon in different situations and still push for offense and create offense. We did a good job of that last game and hopefully we can build on that.”

Rasmussen feels the Wings are due to get consistent scoring throughout the lineup given the breaks most of the lines dealt with during recent losing streaks.

“Some of the other lines have had chances, and haven’t scored, the same with our line,” Rasmussen said. “It’s just about kind of capitalizing on those and kind of taking some pressure off the top six (forwards), and it’s been good. We really hope we can keep going and playing that way and helping offensively.”

The Wings close out a unique stretch of seven games this weekend in which they’ve faced seven of the top eight teams standings-wise in the NHL.

Two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay hosts the Wings on Friday, with Detroit at Florida on Saturday.

The Wings haven’t faced Tampa since opening night — when the Lightning rallied with three late goals to force overtime, then won 7-6 in overtime.

“Being in the division, especially last year only playing in the division and playing them a lot, you start to understand what makes them tick,” Gagner said. “Their power play is really lethal, and they have a lot of weapons. Five-on-five they can create a ton. They’re getting scoring all throughout their lineup.

“They’re going to be a tough match for us, but I like the way we’re playing.”

Red Wings at Lightning 

► Faceoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM

► Outlook: The Lightning (35-11-6), the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs, lead Florida by one point for the Atlantic Division lead. … C Steven Stamkos (26 goals, 60 points) is having a resurgent season, while G Andrei Vasilevskiy (29-8-4, .921 SVS) is arguably the best in the NHL.

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