March 22, 2013 at 1:00 am

Gregg Krupa

Jordin Tootoo's fights ignite Red Wings

The Red Wings’ Jordin Tootoo says fighting is less about winning the fights than affecting the game. He has appeared in 29 of 30 games. (David Guralnick/Detroit News)

Detroit -- Poor Jordin Tootoo.

Of all the guys for whom the referees could call off a goal when it was not warranted, they did it to Tootoo on Wednesday against the Wild.

The diminutive bulldog of a forward brings his lunch pail and hard hat to the rink, and his style of play dictates there may not be a lot of goals.

As expected, Red Wings fans took to him immediately, as if recognizing one of their own.

The improperly disallowed goal is more evidence Tootoo is far from a goon. His contributions as a regular skater, appearing in 29 of 30 games, are valued by his coach and team.

He started a game against the Stars on Jan. 29 by fighting Eric Nystrom at the opening faceoff and, later in the same period, fought Brenden Dillon.

Dillon is 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds. Tootoo is 5-9, 199.

After the game, coach Mike Babcock said Tootoo's role as a pugilist is valued, but the team misses his other attributes when he serves major penalties.

"I was expecting him to get on the forecheck," Babcock said. "But he took it upon himself to have a couple of bouts, and we don't mind that either."

Tootoo said fighting is less about winning the fights than affecting the game.

He said he thought fighting Nystrom would ignite the team, and Dillon picked the second fight because of a vicious check Tootoo delivered a week earlier.

"It's about changing the momentum of the game, creating motions out there, creating energy and lifting the bench up," he said. "There is a lot more to it than beating the (stuff) out of the other guy."

That said, there are a lot of tools in Tootoo's box, along with his hammer.

"First and foremost is making sure you are playing between the whistles and within the system," he said just before the Red Wings left for a four-game trip to the West Coast.

"You've got to put the onus on yourself to make sure you know the systems, so you can help your line mates.

"If one guy is out of sync the object of the game can change a whole lot.

"For me, my foundation is being a physical presence. I think a lot of teams know when I'm out there, and if not they soon do."

Tootoo embraces role

Tootoo's approach is critical because his other abilities and attention to duty allow the Red Wings to roll four lines, even with the fists of an enforcer.

He is not all about body-checking and fights. He is often in the face of the opposition in their zone on the forecheck, within moments of hitting the ice on a line change.

When the Red Wings have that consistently aggressive pressure against the opposition, it makes breakouts more difficult and increases the likelihood of takeaways or giveaways.

Especially with a speedy, attacking player like Darren Helm on the shelf for all but one game to date, the role of the pesky forward is even more important for the Red Wings.

"As a role player, you have to make sure you bring the scoring element of your game, and when you can contribute offensively, it's always a bonus," Tootoo said.

"We know we can score. We can make plays.

"But we know we have other guys who can do that job. Our job is to play north and south, pucks in and out at the blue lines and playing a heavy game."

Getting a wake-up call

Tootoo would have had added a third goal and fifth point to his total Wednesday. But the refs and off-ice officials did not see it that way.

Replays showed Dany Heatley at the goal crease gloving the puck out of the air with the intent of knocking it away, while Drew Miller simultaneously swung and missed.

The refs and replay officials apparently thought Miller hit it.

But, like a lot of stuff around him, Tootoo probably will block it out and put his nose right back on the grindstone.

He was a healthy scratch March 13 against the Flames. Tootoo not only accepted it, but he also started playing harder and has appeared in the three games since.

"For me, I take that as constructive criticism," said the player teammates and coaches call "Toots."

"Sometimes I need that in my game, personally, to kind of wake me up. I say, 'Hey, look you've got to get back to the basics.'

"Sometimes you veer off course.

"That was definitely a wake-up call for me. I take it as a positive.

"You've just got to come to work every day and put your hard hat on."

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com