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Krupa: Blashill juggles lines in search for scoring

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Jeff Blashill acted boldly, with considerable purpose and preparation.

But the rookie coach might need more boldness still.

The Red Wings' frustration builds. Another one-goal lead blown in the third period Sunday. Again, even when they played well, they still did not score enough to win.

And, in this one, they did not play well for too many minutes.

The trio on the fourth line helped kill eight penalties in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Panthers. But Darren Helm, Drew Miller and Luke Glendening still have but one goal among them, 24 games into the season.

It barely mattered Sunday. The big offensive threats were not exactly prolific, either.

The disappointing results for the Wings these days do not proceed from a lack of effort or heart, clearly. The energy of both teams lagged, at times, in this matinee performance.

For the Red Wings, it is the scoring. It is the failure mostly, in one of the great clichés of the sport, to "find the back of the net."

They generate chances. They do not convert often enough.

Wings give up late lead, fall in OT

But Jeff Blashill's approach to the lineup, as evidenced by moves Sunday and others recently, is daring, creative and, perhaps more importantly, proceeds from considerable thought about the status of the franchise 24 games into a season and four seasons into "rebuilding on the fly."

Teemu Pulkkinen looked pretty good playing with two veteran, accomplished playmakers, Pavel Datsyuk and Brad Richards for a few games, as the Red Wings search for more offense. The new second line seemed in the process of solidifying.

But Blashill pulled Pulkkinen out of the lineup Sunday and put Tomas Jurco, fresh from a conditioning stint in Grand Rapids, in Pulkkinen's place.

Pulkkinen has six goals and five assists, averaging a point in every other game of the 22 he has played

Jakub Kindl played some of his better hockey for the Red Wings in the dozen or so games before Blashill sat him for four games. But the coach felt he had to get Brendan Smith going, again, after his several days of illness.

When he reinserted Kindl Sunday, Blashill sat Smith, who has played 211 games as an NHL defenseman, instead of Alexey Marchenko, who played just 30 before Sunday.

Bold moves.

Deviating from the norm

And they have come with some others, too, including putting two of the top goal scorers, Gustav Nyqust and Tomas Tatar on a third line.

Remember, this is partially about jump-starting the offense. With the top two trios shaping up, a third line with scorers like Nyquist and Tatar would give the Wings three lines that compare well with almost any NHL team, the coach reasons.

Blashill also willingly deviates from a frequent pattern of NHL coaches putting one offensive defenseman with another who plays more defensively.

So Niklas Kronwall and Mike Green are the coach's top pair, right now, with the two tallest, rangy defensemen, Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericsson in the second grouping. It concentrates some offense on the blue line and also gives the Red Wings a big duo to match-up against big opponents.

Meanwhile, Jurco and Kindl played fairly well, Sunday. At times, Datsyuk, Richards and Jurco were the best line for the Red Wings.

Veterans and youngsters

It is all about finding some goals, winning more games and developing the careers of a raft of young players upon which the future of the franchise depends.

And that is a sizable repertoire, for a rookie coach.

For every Red Wings fan who thinks Miller and Glendening should be replaced by young, speedy players from Grand Rapids who demonstrate a penchant for scoring, it is important to point out that beyond the need for penalty killers, Blashill is daring.

Much like his predecessor, Mike Babcock, Blashill also is consummately prepared.

Blashill's knowledge of players he coached for the Griffins in two seasons past, combined with his intelligence and self-confidence add up to roster moves intended to improve the Red Wings now, and in seasons just down the road.

The Wings situation boils down to two questions: Can they take another run at a Stanley Cup before Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Kronwall retire? Will young guys like Larkin, Teemu Pulkkinen, Jurco, Marchenko and Andreas Athanasiou step in seamlessly when the retirements come?

Blashill may not pull a rabbit out of his hat, this season. But if the little critter is in there, the the coach is likely to get a good grip on the long ears.