Tatar: Wings need better 'north-south game'

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Tomas Tatar

Detroit – To win more, the Red Wings believe they need to play more end-to-end, with pace and clear their zone more promptly than has been the general pattern this year.

It is often called the “north-south game.”

The Wings believe they improved it Friday against the Blue Jackets. They will need it against Sunday against another hot team.

The Flyers won their eighth straight game Saturday with a 4-2 victory over the Stars.

Although Sergei Bobrovsky thwarted the Red Wings in their 4-1 loss Friday,with a fine performance in net, their north-south game took some strides, generating comparably more shots, scoring chances and offense.

North-south suggests playing end-to-end with some rapidity and economy, as opposed to too many side-to-side attempts at playmaking and too much time mired in their own zone.

An irony, perhaps, is that the compass directions for the north-south game are actually east and west in Joe Louis Arena.

But that is not what thwarts the Wings.

They manage to do that themselves, with some consistency.

“I thought in the first and the third there were times when we could have gone north, when we decided not to,” Jeff Blashill said, describing the loss Friday.

“And so we have to continue to harp upon the fact that we’ve got to be a team that plays up the ice as fast as we can.”

Amid their improved play in recent weeks, the Wings believe they have become more effective in the offensive zone.

The return of Thomas Vanek from injury and Anthony Mantha’s performance since his recall from Grand Rapids have contributed to the difference. Frans Nielsen has started to heat up.

“If we can get pucks up and behind people and play in the other team’s end we’re going to have a better chance to produce offense,” Blashill said.

“And the other things I think we have to continue to do is just be more determined to get to the net, and more determined to put puck in the net.

“I still think we pass up shots to try to make plays and I think we need to understand it’s going to be lots of shots, lots of shot tips around the net and lots of chaos around the net.”

Tomas Tatar, who is skating with Mantha and Henrik Zetterberg on the top line, said the north-south game requires keeping it clean and remaining assertive.

“We can’t turn the pucks over,” Tatar said. “That’s the thing that’s going to kill you if you play the north-south game.

“You have to get the puck deep and have a good forecheck. Exit the zone real fast, or as easy as you can."

Another things is having a forceful presence in the middle and Mantha is supplying some of that, at times, for the first line. Blashill clearly hopes that the goal-starved Riley Sheahan, who has yet to tally this season but who came close a few times Friday, will provide it on the line with Thomas Vanek and Gus Nyquist.

“I think part of it is a middle drive,” Tatar said. “You need a good middle drive and a net front presence for sure.

“I feel like me, ‘Mo’ and ‘Z.,’ all have a chance we can be more productive,” he said, using nicknames for Mantha and Zetterberg. “That’s for sure.”

It also is certain that attacking repeatedly, in waves, is essential against the Flyers.

“You’ve got to make sure you do a good job of getting of your end,” Blashill said. “You’ve got to figure a way to get pucks behind them.

“In our own D-zone we’ve got to make sure we do a good job of blocking shots because their defensemen are shooting lots of pucks.

“They’ve got lots of scoring from the backend. That’s one thing they’ve done this year to a much greater degree than a year ago.

“They play hard. They play physical.

“I think Claude Giroux is kind of the motor on that team,” he said. “He’s one of the best players in the NHL.

“They’ve gotten great goal tending.”