Krupa: Weak Wings should lean on youngsters

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Andreas Athanasiou – A sprained ankle cut into his season, but when Athanasiou has been in he’s usually provided a spark. Defenders have difficulty dealing with his world-class speed. GRADE: B

Detroit – The Detroit Red Wings are still talking about how “getting a greasy goal” might jumpstart their offense, and set them on a more victorious path.

Going to the net and engaging assertively can yield a fat puck, lying there waiting to be swept in, it is said.

They persist in saying they want to shoot, instead of making a play.

There is talk about more of a north-south effort, charging up and down the ice in generally straight lines, rather than the deviations that dilute thrusts to the goal.

Jeff Blashill continues to change the lines. The lack of scoring and injuries spurs a tendency to reorganize, yet again, in the hope something gives. Matchups can dictate changes, too.

It all sounds too familiar, like some unnerving, loathed echo.

The Wings have been saying these things for a few seasons now, when contemplating improvements to their unproductive offense. The performance continues to diminish.

Entering play Tuesday, they had 2.28 goals per game, down from 2.55 a season ago and 2.82 the season before that.

Their goal differential is -11, about the same as -10 last season. Two seasons ago it was +20.

Red Wings’ Xavier Ouellet learns to ‘give everything I have’

Problems are repeatedly identified and remedies seem to fail just as often.

At some point, the Red Wings should let their young players carry more of the load and leave the lines alone for a while.

It has been trending that way, a bit, recently, with Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha getting more time and, on defense, too, with Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul playing more. That should endure.

Keeping the lines constant and letting the chemistry set up for a several games is an option largely unemployed since well before Mike Babcock left.

Letting the young roll and using the same lines regularly may not be the winning recipe, but they are a couple of ingredients used only sparingly to date. It seems like it might be time to rely on them.

Anthony Mantha

Used more, Athanasiou and Mantha may help improve scoring, or not. But the greater point is that everything else has been tried, repeatedly, and given the prospects for the future of this roster, it makes sense to let them gobble up more NHL minutes for the experience alone.

To the extent that is a recipe for elimination from the playoffs, the current fixings are producing nothing better in the first 30 games.

Some of Blashill’s lines changes in search of the right combinations have worked.

Moving Luke Glendening up and charging him with winning puck battles for more skilled forwards was an initiative approximately coincident with the end of a cold stretch and the start of more success.

And at times Blashill has shown patience, like keeping Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar and Mantha together for several games. (Zetterberg was a game-time decision, Tuesday.)

Blashill was also poised to put Athanasiou with Thomas Vanek and Gustav Nyquist, instead of Riley Sheahan.

That new line makes sense and signals a bigger role for Athanasiou, who has returned from injury, moving him from the wing to center and perhaps providing more ice time for the speedy forward.

But, even if they are not immediately successful, it would be nice to see Athanasiou, Vanek and Nyquist together for a week or two.

Recently, the Red Wings have played well and lost to superior teams that were hot, the Blue Jackets and the Flyers. They scored once against Columbus and not at all against the Flyers.

Tomas Tatar and Nyquist both have four goals in 29 games, and Sheahan has none.

Mantha and Athanasiou also have four goals, but they have done it in half the time, 14 and 15 games, respectively.

More playing time will determine if they can keep the pace.

The Wings like to put their younger players in positions with big chances for success, and it certainly helped Mantha to have another season to develop his body and performance.

But the chronic lack of scoring cries out for a different approach, and an infusion of new blood and potential skills may finally trump intentions to develop young talent more fully.

Deploy them fully, now.

Keep the lines the same for a few to several games, to the extent injuries and matchups allow.

And if it does not work, at least it will have been tried, and the young guys will have mistakes made in bigger roles to learn from.

Hopes for a roster-boosting trade remain largely the stuff of fantasy. The facts are, such deals are rare in the NHL, especially in the season, and the Red Wings’ young talent, desired by others, is off limits.

So, with the offense in decline and suggestions for spurring more found wanting, use the young guys more fully, now, and try to ride some regular line combinations in the hope that familiarity improves the yield.