Red Wings’ Frk learning to play ‘without fear’

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Martin Frk

Buffalo – Every young player seems to go through it and Martin Frk is the latest.

Frk began this season looking unstoppable with that lethal shot of his. He scored three goals in the first four games – that one-timer in particular absolutely handcuffing NHL goaltenders.

But opponents quickly have learned to defend Frk more effectively. Suddenly that shot isn’t as easy to get off, and Frk is struggling to get himself open, to look as NHL-ready as he looked the opening week.

Heading into Tuesday night’s game in Buffalo, Frk hadn’t had a point in five games. Coach Jeff Blashill dropped him from playing with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, putting Frk with Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm, and there’s been an adjustment finding chemistry with those two veterans.

Frk has begun to look a bit more hesitant and guarded on the ice, maybe overthinking for one split second longer. He is not playing with the ease and confidence he showed that opening week.

“I’ve had conversations with Marty about it; he understands I have tons of belief in him,” Blashill said. “He belongs here, he’s an NHL player, and he has an NHL weapon with that shot.

“He just has to go out and play without fear. He hasn’t played with the same fearlessness as his first three games or so. He has to go back to playing fearless.”

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In Frk’s mind, confidence isn’t an issue. The impressive start in training camp, taking advantage of the contract stalemate involving Andreas Athanasiou and finding a spot alongside Larkin and Mantha, all were the result of Frk getting an opportunity and capitalizing on it.

But now, it’s a matter of maintaining and building on what Frk had early on.

“I’m just trying to do the same (as before); I’m not trying to change anything,” said Frk after Tuesday’s morning skate. “If you want to play in this league, you have to play with confidence. No matter if you’re not scoring. You still have to have confidence – that doesn’t change.”

There’s a real possibility that maybe opponents didn’t entirely know the scope of Frk’s strengths and weaknesses and now they’re catching up.

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Penalty kills appear to be shading a body over to Frk’s side on the power play, and the lanes Frk saw early on aren’t always there.

“I feel more on the power play – 5-on-5 not really,” said Frk, if he’s seeing anything different in the way opposing teams are defending. “It’s definitely way harder when you have a guy there (in the shooting lane). The closer they are, it’s easier for them to guard. You just have to find a way.

“Hopefully I can get on the scoresheet again.”

Frk felt the line with him, Nielsen and Helm was fine in Sunday’s loss in Vancouver, getting into Vancouver’s zone and creating opportunities – something the Red Wings didn’t do much of, for sure, against the Canucks.

Frk appeared to find instant chemistry with Larkin and Mantha, but Blashill decided to flip several wings during the Las Vegas game, with the offense in a funk, and the change worked.

Frk, though, has been a drought ever since.

“They’re good hockey players, we just have to get our chemistry together,” Frk said. “We played good the last game, got a couple of chances. Sometimes it just takes a little longer. But we can be a good line.”

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Blashill has seen signs of Frk emerging from this dry spell.

“Frk certainly played good early,” Blashill said. “I don’t think, necessarily, it’s line-based. He was real confident early and we have to get his confidence back to that level.

“The challenge is, sometimes coming into this league, you have to play through this.”