Wings' Blashill shakes up lines to boost goal output

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Newark, N.J. — The Red Wings hope to build on their third shootout win of the season Wednesday in Buffalo against one of the more surprising teams in the NHL in the first quarter, the Devils.

They will seek to clean up the turnovers that had them reeling in the first period against the Sabres, and Jeff Blashill has adjusted lines, again, in search of more scoring.

Tomas Tatar will play on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Anthony Mantha.

Like many of the Wings, Tatar is lagging in scoring with three goals and four assists through 20 games.

“Just looking to get the right line combinations,” Blashill said.
“We’re slowly but surely getting to spots where we like our line combinations. Obviously, with injuries and that, they prevent you from having the stability that you want, in totality.”

The change also puts Justin Abdelkader alongside Frans Nielsen with Luke Glendening on what is nominally a new third line.

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“I think with Abby and Nielsen and Glennie, that’s three kind of straight-ahead players,” Blashill said. “And putting Tats with Z and Mantha, you know at times they think the game a little bit differently.

“And so, we’re just trying to get the right combos.”

Tatar is plainly anxious for more offensive production as the Red Wings play in a second season in which goals are at a premium.

“I figure we’re just trying to get more line combinations just to get goals going,” Tatar said, after the morning skate in the Prudential Center. “We all know we have to score more, and it’s kind of tough to win on the road when you only get one goal in a game.

“We need more than that. We need guys to step up and score.”

The remedy for meager scoring is what hockey players and coaches often say it is, Tatar said.

“You need to have a few ugly goals, I would say. Overshoot the puck, go to the net, you know, those dirty areas, get some bounces and fortunately be waiting for these goals.”

Puck possession has been an issue  since last season, and it is especially true against the Devils, for whom structured defense remains a key emphasis.

“On the road, I think it’s always important, the first 10 minutes especially,” said Danny DeKeyser, who is minus-3 in 20 games. Teams come out hard and we’ve got to be ready. So, you’ve just got to make simple plays and just try not to get behind the eight ball early in the game.

“Just making easy plays and getting pucks in deep, and not turning pucks over, because teams come out with a lot of energy at home.”

Jimmy Howard will start, Blashill said.

Howard has seized the starter’s job with an outstanding performance, posting a 1.76 goals against average and 943 save percentage in 11 games. Those are some of the best statistics in his 11-year professional career.

It is likely that Petr Mrazek (3.16 GAA, .901 save-percentage) would face the Eastern Conference-leading Canadiens Saturday at Joe Louis Arena.

That would be Mrazek’s third game in 10, dating to Nov. 4.

Blashill also said that the rest of his lineup will remain the same as against Buffalo.

That keeps Brendan Smith on the blue line, with the injury to Alexey Marchenko (upper body).
Xavier Ouellet and Drew Miller would be healthy scratches.

Twitter: @greggkrupa