Krupa: Ott gives Wings much-needed physical presence

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — The importance of being Steve Ott is his toughness and defensive reliability.

The fact the 34-year-old veteran provides occasional offense — like helping put Tomas Jurco in fine scoring position off a turnover in the early moments against the Stars on Tuesday, before sealing the win with an empty-net goal to give the Wings points in four straight — is a bonus.

“Obviously, he’s very high on the skilled-end player,” Ott said of Jurco, his new linemate.

“I told him, ‘Look, I’m going to be trying to get you pucks, and you do with them what you’ve got to do.’

“Luckily, that first shift, found him in the slot. And he hits the post. It would have been nice to go in for him.

“But I really thought our line did some nice things.”

Ott is not to be mistaken for the finest jewel in the safe. Some Red Wings fans believe his playing time should go to a younger, developing forward, especially when everyone is healthy.

Supporting role

But roles are important.

The Red Wings take their rough play where they can get it. Right now, Ott’s performance in that supporting role should not be underestimated.

It was noted by his absence last weekend, when he missed his first game since Oct. 19.

It was a Saturday night, the Canadiens were in town, and the Red Wings looked like a M*A*S*H* unit.

The first guy down was a player they do not like to lose in a street fight.

Brendan Smith, who has been known to peel guys off of teammates in dire straits and to avenge the aggrieved, was on the ice, clutching his knee after an awkward knee-on-knee collision with Phillip Danault at the sideboards.

Smith is gone until about Christmas — or beyond.

Later in the second period, Tyler Bertuzzi went awkwardly into the boards, legs splayed, on a check by Alexei Emelin, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound defenseman whose hits appear in medley on YouTube.

Bertuzzi, who has shown in Grand Rapids (American Hockey League) and Guelph (Ontario League) he is reliable in a dispute, is out 3-5 weeks,

In the third, Emelin caught Dylan Larkin behind the Canadiens net and nailed him to the end boards. Larkin got up and managed to get to the bench in obvious pain.

Luckily, Larkin, the Red Wings leading goal scorer, returned.

The Wings were down to Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson for players who occasionally toss punches.

With the score 1-1 late, they could have used Ott.

He was right back in there the next game, against the Stars.

It is not just Ott’s presence or only his ability to fight. It is that his presence helps make them stouter, collectively.

Andreas Athanasiou was victimized by a hard body-check that banged up his knee and has him out of the lineup. Alexey Marchenko’s shoulder injury occurred amid some physical play.

Opponents are physically testing the speedy, young Wings, and even older, less-quick targets like their long-time favorite, Henrik Zetterberg.

It is a good strategy. The Red Wings can expect more of it.

Desperate search

Even amid their desperate search for offense and more playing time for young guys who may improve the fortunes of the franchise in the long run, Ott’s contribution is important.

“I play with an edge, personally,” he said. “But if I can rub my game off on to anybody else and if it makes guys play a little stronger in a team toughness game, I think that’s what has to occur.”

In a physical, competitive game, knowing someone has one’s back makes the going easier.

“That’s the game within the game that happens out there,” Ott said.

“And I don’t think you’ll ever see it go away.

“That’s just the competitive man’s game out there, and in certain situation when the competitive juices are flowing it’s still a big part of the game no matter how the skill-game has changed it or how fast it is, you still have to have physicality.

“This is a physical sport.” @greggkrupa