Blashill: Red Wings need to get ‘mega-hungry’ at net

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Tyler Bertuzzi

Detroit – There are many areas where the Detroit Red Wings can get better. But there is one thing that has especially hurt them the last few games.

There needs to be more of a presence around the net.

Opposing goalies have had it too easy. Case in point: New Jersey’s Cory Schneider Wednesday in a 3-1 Devils victory.

“We have to be hungrier at the net,” said coach Jeff Blashill, who has made the point several times this week while talking with the media.

“It means two things,” Blashill said. “It means net presence, but also getting on rebounds and getting guys at the net.

“Jersey did that better than us. It’s an area we have to improve on. We have to be mega-hungry at the net and have tons of net presence and make it hard on him (opposing goalies) to have success.”

To that end, Blashill made an adjustment before Thursday’s practice, taking Anthony Mantha off one of the power-play units and replacing him with Tyler Bertuzzi.

Mantha hadn’t been as effective as he was earlier in the season. Bertuzzi, conversely, was one of Grand Rapids’ better net-front players, in the minor leagues, and was disruptive Wednesday against the Devils.

“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,” Blashill said. “(Mantha) 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.

“Mantha has done good job at points with it but certainly Bert is somebody who can compete for that job. He (Bertuzzi) likes to go there and he’s got good hands around the net. He has an ability to screen.”

The offense has dried up the last two games as the Red Wings have suffered consecutive 3-1 losses. The power play went a combined 0-for-7 in the two losses.

The offense has slowed to the point the Red Wings ranked 26th (2.64 goals per game) out of 31 teams entering Friday’s schedule.

A little snarl around the net would be one way to possibly score some much-needed goals.

“It’s tough to pinpoint,” Gustav Nyquist said. “That’s been a theme throughout the whole season. It seems like we play good for two periods and have one bad period and those two periods we don’t seem to find that extra goal that we need.

“The last game we had tons of chances on the power play. We had five power plays and just have to find a way to score there.

“(But) you can talk about having chances, which we did, but at the same time we have to bear down and score on them. We just have to be better.”

Big opportunity

Bertuzzi was to be on a line with Nyquist and Henrik Zetterberg against the Rangers Friday night. It’s a big chance for the young Bertuzzi to show he belongs in the NHL, and deserves to play on a scoring line.

“He’s come in and played real well in the games he’s been in,” said Nyquist of the gritty Bertuzzi. “He brings a lot of energy, skating, and he wins battles. He’s been physical.

“He’ll provide some net-front presence for us and win some pucks on the forecheck.”

Blashill made an interesting observation about Bertuzzi earlier in the week, as to how Bertuzzi has evolved his game and changed perceptions of his playing style.

When the Red Wings drafted Bertuzzi in the second round in 2013, Bertuzzi was known more as an agitator.

“When he got drafted, the word was much different than the player I saw that came to Grand Rapids,” said Blashill, who was then coaching the Griffins. “He was a little bit of an agitator with toughness, which is great, but it’s a lot better when you can do that stuff and have ability, and he’s got real ability to score in hard areas. Which is why he’s always been a good playoff performer.”

Bertuzzi was the American League’s playoff MVP last spring when the Griffins won the Calder Cup.

That ability to provide offense when the game bogs down could be Bertuzzi’s strength in the NHL.

“I don’t think he’s ever going to light the world on fire during the regular season,” Blashill said. “He’s about a point per game in the American League, but the harder the game gets, his effectiveness stays the same.

“For a lot of guys, the harder the game gets they can’t stay quite as effective. That’s where he (Bertuzzi) can be a real asset.”

Ice chips

Anthony Mantha missed Friday’s game with what Blashill said was a nagging injury, though nothing major.

Blashill used 11 forwards and seven defensemen, with Xavier Ouellet entering the lineup.

Ice chips

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist entered Friday’s game 7-4-2 in career against the Red Wings, with a 1.90 goals-against average in those 13 games and .938 save percentage.

Lundqvist’s GAA and SVS were better against the Red Wings than any team he’s faced in the NHL.

“That’s the mark of true greatness,” said Blashill of Lundqvist’s career. “There’s a lot of guys in the league who have had a great couple of years, but the elite guys, the Hall of Famers, are the ones that have done it forever.”

… Blashill said after Friday’s morning skate Mantha was a questionable for the game because of a nagging injury. Mantha would be a game-time decision.