Forward Tyler Bertuzzi talks about his role with the Red Wings. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Detroit — With the Red Wings stuck in a terrible slump, and their playoff hopes diminishing daily, it was time for more tweaking.
This one appeared to be with an eye toward the future.
Coach Jeff Blashill put forward Tyler Bertuzzi on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist at Thursday’s practice.
Bertuzzi is scheduled to stay there for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, and also will replace Anthony Mantha on the net-front on one of the power-play units.
“I don’t know what it’s (the lines) going to be like (Friday) but if that’s the case, obviously it’s an honor to play with Zetterberg and Gus is always on his line for a reason,” Bertuzzi said. “Hopefully I can bring some energy to the line.
“Just bring energy on the forecheck, keep it simple with them and just try to create space for them and work hard down low, get to the net.”
Bertuzzi earned his first NHL point, assisting on Justin Abdelkader’s goal.
Bertuzzi appeared in seven games last season, getting his first somewhat extended stay in the NHL. But Bertuzzi has an opportunity for a much longer, maybe permanent, stay this time around, and has looked more comfortable and confident.
“I guess anyone would say another year of experience and more confidence (would help),” Bertuzzi said.
One of the better prospects in the organization, Bertuzzi was the Most Valuable Player in last spring’s American League playoffs while leading Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup.
Giving Bertuzzi an opportunity makes sense, given the Red Wings’ dismal stretch of late (3-8-5 over their last 16 games) and an inability to score goals.
While moving Bertuzzi to Zetterberg’s line, Blashill put Mantha with Dylan Larkin and Tomas Tatar.
“Just trying to tweak a little bit,” Blashill said. “We’ve tried to keep some pairs together as much as we can. At home it’s a little bit different in terms of matchups. Although Tyler’s a real complete player, he’s still getting used to the system, so to go out and expect him to match up against the other team’s top line would be a lot to ask until he gets himself a little more familiarized, and it gives Hank a little bit of a forecheck on that line.
“Mantha and Larks have had some success together, too. We’ll see how it goes.”
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill talks about Tyler Bertuzzi joining captain Henrik Zetterberg's line. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Bertuzzi also took Mantha’s net-front spot on the power play unit, alongside Larkin, Martin Frk, Andreas Athanasiou and Mike Green.
“We wanted to get him (Bertuzzi) some looks at it,” Blashill said. “It’s one of those spots where we have to make sure we have a net presence. Mantha has done good job at points with it, but certainly Bert is somebody who can compete for that job.
“We gave him an opportunity to compete for it today.
“He likes to go there and he’s got good hands around the net. He has an ability to screen. We’ll see. Today was an opportunity to compete for that spot.”
Bertuzzi saw net-front duty with the Griffins when Blashill was the head coach in Grand Rapids.
“When I came up from juniors my first year, Blash was head coach, I was net-front,” Bertuzzi said. “I know he liked me there. He’s given me the opportunity up here to play net-front and I just have to stay in front of the goalie’s eyes and create havoc down low.”
Mantha has one goal over his last 10 games and hasn’t scored on the power play since Nov. 15.
Mantha clearly hasn’t been as effective in front of the net.
“When he first got in that role he was doing a real good job staying in front of the goalie’s eyes and he’s got a little bit away from that,” Blashill said. “Him and I have had conversations about it, and he certainly has the opportunity to get back and make sure he’s in front of the goalie’s eyes.
“When we’re playing elite goalies, which in the Eastern Conference seems like every night, if they see the puck it’s hard to score. It’s just something that him and I had a conversation at the beginning of the year that this was the spot I had for him and he really did a good job with it early.
“He’s come off it a little bit. Hopefully he can get back to doing a really good job with it.”
Blashill hopes that reuniting Mantha with Larkin will help Mantha out of his scoring drought.
“You’re looking for a little bit of jump start,” Blashill said. “When you play with Larks, you have to keep up with him, so if you don’t skate with him, it’s going to be a tough night for you.”
Another young forward struggling is Athanasiou, who hasn’t scored in 16 games.
Blashill wants Athanasiou, whose ice time has dipped the last couple of games, to consistently work hard.
“I don’t see one player in this league that’s a great player that doesn’t work and compete every shift,” Blashill said. “If you want to be great, that’s what you have to do. The times he has done that, he’s been great. He has the ability to do it, but he has to do it on a consistent basis.
“When he does, he will get rewarded with ice time.”
Rangers at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m., Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Rangers (20-13-4, 44 points) are 5-3-2 over their last 10 games…New York suffered a blow Thursday when it lost LW Chris Kreider (11 goals) to a blood clot in his arm … Henrik Lundqvist (2.61 GAA, .921 SVS) remains an elite goaltender.