Detroit — One can stand around and hope some more practice makes things better, or try to force improvement a bit by moving some of the fellows around while preaching: “Let’s get back to Red Wings hockey!”
In no small part because he has a surplus of bodies, a team very much in the process of developing, young players pushing older ones in Detroit and even young ones in Grand Rapids pushing the other young ones on the NHL roster, Mike Babcock opted to move some bodies around, after a lousy loss Thursday.
By the end of three periods Saturday one could conclude that, despite continuing to hand the puck to their opponents far too frequently, these Red Wings were playing considerably more like the Red Wings.
And the sense is that with lots of weapons not in the lineup, including the injured Daren Helm and Patrick Eaves, along with healthy scratches Tomas Tatar and Mikael Samuelsson, and Gustav Nyquist toiling still in the AHL, Babcock has a lot of buttons to push, this season. When things stagnate, you can expect the intense coach who is rarely satisfied, even when things seem to be going well, to press them with a vengence.
Moves pan out
After his team looked bad Thursday, and he blamed them and himself before looking to improve on a 2-2 start to the season, Babcock moved Todd Bertuzzi from the third line to the first, replacing Justin Abdelkader, to get Bertuzzi more involved and the second line going.
Bertuzzi was everywhere, and scored the Wings’ first goal in an important, early-season win against the Flyers. It also broke the dam on the power play, which had been 0-for-10 entering the game.
Abdelkader was not moved down because of poor play, but because Babcock hoped his energetic performance on the top line would improve the second line.
Abdelkader, Stephen Weiss and Johan Franzen were held scoreless. But Babcock said they looked better.
“Abby playing on another line gave us another good line,” Babcock said. “I liked our lines.”
Daniel Alfredsson dropped down to the third line and he contributed three assists on the power play, for four points in the first five games.
And Luke Glendening, playing in his first NHL game after he was called up Friday from Grand Rapids, his hometown, played for the team he grew up watching and looked very much like he belongs, especially killing penalties.
“He made a great play that was going to Giroux for that empty netter,” Babcock said, of a particularly fine bit of anticipation by the 24-year-old that robbed the high-scoring Claude Giroux of a near-certain scoring chance.
“He’s smart, and he’s hard.”
Another thing the moves seemed to accomplish is to address a concern felt more by the fans than the players and coaches, certainly, but a concern, nonetheless.
With a perception that Eastern Conference is bigger, tougher and more prone to fighting, Babcock’s changes, including the insertion of Jordin Tootoo into the lineup, put guys capable of throwing punches and considerable physicality otherwise — Bertuzzi, Abdelkader and Tootoo — on three of the four lines.
Are the lines likely to remain the same, for a while?
Well, maybe another game.
Expect more change this season, rather than less, with the Red Wings intent on establishing the roster that will win their next Stanley Cup and still searching for that identity, harder play and better offense with more consistency.
“I thought we were too cautious,” Babcock said, when asked if the Red Wings had yielded too many shots, with 34.
“What I mean by that is tentative. Let’s go after the other team. We’re capable.
“We’ve got to be on our toes more.”
It is, in part, his job to keep them there.
And Babcock would be the last who needs reminding he has a full console of buttons in front of him.
Asked before the game why his shuffled roster and lines did not include Tatar, Babcock seemed almost whimsical.
“He can score, and we need goals,” Babcock said. “So, why isn’t he in?
“I ask myself the same question,” he said, before adding a compliment to the interviewer. “That’s a good question.”
It also was a question he left unanswered, 10 hours before securing a 5-2 win.
In other words, Babcock seemed to demonstrate, he knows where the buttons are.