Detroit — The Red Wings aim to play tough.
They want opponents to understand they have a battle on their hands when they play the Wings, especially in Little Caesars Arena.
In training camp, Jeff Blashill started calling their approach to a game, “60 minutes of hell.”
He thinks the Red Wings are getting there.
“Way better now than we were at the beginning of the year,” he said after Sunday’s hard-hitting, pugnacious game against the Avalanche, which made it feel like that once-bitter rivalry had been renewed.
“I didn’t know what we were made of yet,” he said of his perceptions in Traverse City during training camp “Did we have players that would fit that?
“But, I think we’ve got more players that fit that, now. And, Tyler’s (Bertuzzi) one of them. I think Rass (Rassmussen) is another one of them,” the coach said. “Glennie’s (Glendening) always been that.”
The Wings want Bertuzzi to play up to the line where antagonism ends and rules violations begin.
On Monday, the NHL ruled Bertuzzi crossed that line.
The Department of Player Safety suspended Bertuzzi two games for “unsportsmanlike conduct/roughing” after a hearing into a sequence near the Wings bench Sunday.
What the NHL found objectionable the Wings might well perceive as sticking up for themselves. They did a lot of it throughout the game, and called it progress in their development of an evolving roster.
When the Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole checked Andreas Athanasiou heavily in open ice in the third period, Bertuzzi fought Cole.
He delivered at least four punches for which Cole had little answer.
Then, Patrik Nemeth checked Dylan Larkin heavily into the boards. Larkin later said he believed Nemeth targeted his head.
Anthony Mantha immediately fought Nemeth, repeatedly landing right hands, including one punch that caused Nemeth to howl.
But the toughness the Red Wings and Blashill have in mind is not pugilism alone.
A difficult team to play against is also disciplined about the space it allows opponents.
Constantly “closing the gaps” is, in part, confrontational But, it also requires disciplined will and vigilance. And, it makes for good, tough defense.
“I think from a physicality standpoint, and from a hunting-and-hounding type of standpoint, we’re closer to that than we were at the beginning of the year,” Blashill said.
“I think our physicality has increased over the last three or four weeks.”
The tactics can frustrate opponents.
Jonathan Bernier played in goal Sunday against his former teammates. He said he noticed their frustration.
He said it included the high scoring line of Nathan McKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.
“I thought we did a really good job all night of staying on top of them,” Bernier said. “They got a little frustrated.”
Niklas Kronwall added to the rough stuff by debuting “Kronwalling” for 2018-19, with a vicious, frontal body check on Colin Wilson.
But, Kronwall said, the most effective toughness came while the Wings thwarted the Avalanche’s high-powered offense, especially the top line.
“Whoever was out there against them tried to take away as much space as possible,” Kronwall said. “That’s how you’ve got to do it. It’s not just one guy focused on them. Every single guy on the ice has to do that.
“And, I thought we did a good job.”
In training camp in 2017, Blashill talked about the need for the team to assume an identity. Preferably one more rough and tough.
Through a seasonlong search, it never quite took hold.
In 2018, he brought the slogan.
It seems to have helped, and it could prove a potent weapon in a league designed for parity.
“It is hard to be a real good team if you are not hard to play against, unless you have, like, immense, immense more talent than the other team,” Blashill said. “And, no one has that in the NHL.”
Lightning at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Lightning played the Devils Monday night, while the Red Wings were off. Tampa’s injuries include G Andrei Vasilevskiy and D Anton Stralman. The Lightning entered play Monday with the most points in the NHL (39) and tied for the second-best goal differential (24). The Wings are in 21st in the league standings and 22nd in goal differential.