Bertuzzi asserting himself with forechecking chances

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Red Wings flying deep in the opponents’ zone without the puck, harrying the other guys’ puck carriers and potential ones, stymying attacks even during the countdown to launch.

It used to be a trademark.

Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and, even well into a long career, Igor Larionov all pushed the forecheck, along with more than a few other Wings, throughout their recent glory years.

One coach with a jutting chin, Scotty Bowman, and another with the scowl of a bird of prey, Mike Babcock demanded it. They got it.

Jeff Blashill seems to do the same. Occasionally, he gets it.

Asked last week before the start of the second half of the season what is essential for the Wings to do to improve from a .500 club out of the playoffs in the current standings, Blashill talked about pressuring opponents, especially in deep in their zone at the start of any their offensive thrusts, and playing with pace.

They forechecked well against the lethargic Blackhawks Sunday, and not so well against the considerably-more energetic Penguins, whose biggest stars were shining, Saturday.

Is it mostly the performance of the Red Wings or the other guys that is determining whether an integral element of the Wings’ success is accomplished?

“I think it’s a little of both,” Blashill said. “The opponent and you always have something to say about the way the game goes.

“I think in Pitt, certainly, their best players were playing at their highest level. So, then, it’s a harder game for sure.

“I thought we got on top of Chicago,” he said, of the game Sunday, after which Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said his team was “brutal… out to lunch.”

So, did the Red Wings fore-check, among other things, much better against the Blackhawks than the Penguins, or did the vastly differing performances of the two opponents mostly account for the 4-1 loss and the 4-0 win?

“I know that we played the way we want to, yesterday,” Blashill said. “We didn’t play as good in Pitt. The other team sometimes has something to say about that.”

Some Wings seemed like no-shows in the forechecking against the Penguins, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel already launched on their attacks before the Red Wings could muster any forward resistance.

But Tyler Bertuzzi fore-checked with considerable consistency all weekend.

The sight of number 59 alone deep in the opponent’s zone, pressuring attackers early in the sequence, is likely to become familiar.

“I just think that’s what he brings,” Blashill said, of Bertuzzi. “That’s one of the things he can be really good at.

“He’s naturally a forechecker. He’s got good stick-on-puck. He creates lots of turnovers.

“As he continues to make progressions in this league,” Blashill said, “the big thing is to just continue to improve that body so he gets a little extra step, a little extra strength. And that’s something he’s going to continue to work on for the rest of this year and into the off-season.”

Blashill said he and GM Ken Holland would have liked Bertuzzi in the lineup at the start of the year, but injuries set him back.

In seven games last season, Bertuzzi flashed his assertiveness, but seemed a body too light and lacking in strength. He came to the 2017 training camp in September bigger and stronger.

“I just get on the forecheck as hard as I can,” Bertuzzi said of his approach. “You just try to create stalls and create space for my line mates, and obviously try to turn over the puck and create offense.”

For the Red Wings, like some other things this season and in the past couple, it is a matter of gaining consistency.

“If you don’t get on it, they can break out easy and their ‘D’ can beat you up the ice, and that’s how they create odd-man rushes and lots of offense,” Bertuzzi said.

“When you get on the forecheck early, it disrupts everything.”