Wings’ Tyler Bertuzzi eases any concerns about last season’s back troubles

Detroit News

There was definitely some doubt surrounding forward Tyler Bertuzzi heading into this season.

Bertuzzi was coming off back surgery that limited him to nine games, all early in the schedule.

Given the way Bertuzzi plays, gritty and often around the net waiting for pucks to drop freely, there was the nagging possibility Bertuzzi may have difficulty coming all the way back.

Those doubts, though, were diminished opening night when Bertuzzi  scored four goals against Tampa. Heading into Friday’s regular season finale in New Jersey, Bertuzzi had 29 goals and enjoyed a career-best season.

“He just has a knack for finding the puck and finding the back of the net,” goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic said. “He’s not afraid to go to the front and that’s how you score dirty goals. Some of his goals aren’t necessarily the prettiest but they all count the same and that’s what makes it tough.

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“He just has a knack for finding pucks, getting his stick (on pucks), and creating offense. You need players like that in order to succeed in this league.”

Coach Jeff Blashill has continuously preached about the need to go the net and create havoc, and Bertuzzi was one of the few who consistently did, and was rewarded with goals.

“Tyler does a lot of things that you want to see in your players,” Blashill said. “Tyler is a guy that is very willing to go to the net, is good around the net, and he has good hands in those areas.

“He’s proven he can score from the outside as well, but ultimately if you want to score goals consistently in this league, you have to get to the net, you have to score those greasy, dirty goals.”

Bertuzzi, along with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond, formed the Wings’ most productive and consistent line, but it’s Bertuzzi chemistry with Larkin that continues to grow and is a key to the Wings’ success going forward

Larkin led the Wings with 31 goals, before his season-ending core surgery a couple weeks ago. Larkin’s playmaking style complements Bertuzzi’s rambunctious game perfectly, and the two have firmly established themselves as part of the Wings’ leadership group.

“Both those guys have had real good offensive years,” Blashill said. “They went through a large stretch where they were pretty high on the plus-minus in comparison to the rest of our team, went through a tough two-week stretch over the last little bit before Dylan had the surgery. But prior to that, they were plus players, which means you’re going out and you’re winning your shifts.

“Plus-minus isn’t everything but it means, ultimately, that when you’re out there, you’ve won the shifts more than not.”

When the Wings were playing their best hockey, in the first half of the season, the Larkin line was leading the way.

“A good challenge for those guys, and our whole team, is to show that you can produce that type of offensive on a playoff-caliber team,” Blashill said. “For a large stretch of the year, we were in the mix and they were leading the way. It got away from us over the last six weeks to two months, but for a large stretch, they did a really good job of leading the way offensively on a team that was in the mix.

“From that perspective, it’s a good step.”

Big summer

One player who need to reestablish himself this off-season is defenseman Gustav Lindstrom.

Still trying to establish himself as an NHL regular, Lindstrom’s play sagged the second half of the season as his confidence fell accordingly.

“Confidence is a huge factor for guys,” Blashill said. “Where Gus’ play is at, he’s a guy who is still trying to prove he’s an NHL player on a daily basis, so when he goes through struggles, you probably question yourself and the confidence slips and your game isn’t quite as solid.”

Inconsistency was an issue with Lindstrom this season, and part of that might come with his need to get quicker.

“Lindy has had moments where he’s been a good player for us and moments where he’s had some struggles,” Blashill said. “He’s not alone in that. The biggest thing with Lindy will come with this off-season and can he push his feet to get quicker.

“It’s something he’s worked on and he really has to put the work in. If he does that, he’s a good NHL defenseman. But he has to make sure he as to put that work in the summer and he knows that.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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