Red Wings top line learning how to balance offense, stronger defense

Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings’ top line of Dylan Larkin centering Lucas Raymond and Tyler Bertuzzi has shown offensive chemistry since the beginning of last season, when Raymond arrived in the NHL.

Almost instantly, the line became an offensive factor.

But there were struggles on the defensive end. And it hasn’t really gotten significantly better yet this season, since the line was reunited with Bertuzzi’s return from a broken hand.

Coach Derek Lalonde was quick to point out the defensive breakdown the line had Thursday on Toronto’s only goal, as all three players contributed miscues to allow Rasmus Sandin score.

“That goal they gave up, there were some mishaps in that from all three forwards to letting them get back into it 2-1,” Lalonde said. “I still think that group, that line, has got to evolve into playing a more compete game.”

Now, the line also delivered a neat goal at the start of the game, Larkin skating through the slot and ultimately dishing a pass to a trailing Raymond, who snapped a shot past goaltender Ilya Samsonov.

Few people doubt the Larkin line can become a strong threat offensively, with Bertuzzi now healthy and retrieving pucks and being a net-front presence.

But to be known as more of a force around the NHL, they will need to clean up their defensive deficiencies.

Lalonde compared it to some of Tampa Bay’s skilled players, and how those Lightning stars became effective 200-foot players.

“It almost feels like some of those high-end skill lines we had back in Tampa (where Lalonde was an assistant coach), where they still had to transform their game and be a little more responsible all the time,” Lalonde said. “It’s just that it’s got to be 200 feet.”

Vrana sits again

There is more intrigue in the situation with forward Jakub Vrana, who is on a conditioning stint in Grand Rapids.

Vrana was a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game with the Griffins during Friday’s 4-0 loss to Iowa.

When asked about what Vrana has to do to return to the lineup, Griffins coach Ben Simon said “Compete. Same thing as everyone else. Compete.”

Vrana has no goals, one assist and a minus-6 rating in six games with Grand Rapids. Lalonde has struggled to get off his shot, and is attempting to knock two months of rust off his game.

Vrana has struggled with the Griffins since returning from a two-month stay in the NHL/NHLPA players assistance program.

The Wings waived Vrana Jan. 3 to create room for Robby Fabbri on the roster. No team claimed Vrana, who has this season, and next season, left on his contract at $5.25 million per year.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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