Red Wings return to work energized, refreshed
Detroit — It was time to get back to work Thursday for the Red Wings, and they couldn’t wait.
Last having played Jan. 22 in Edmonton, the Wings have been off since then for the All-Star break and a four-day “bye.”
Just being back together as a team and playing hockey again was enjoyable.
“You feel refreshed,” said forward Anthony Mantha of the week off, and getting back into hockey mode. “If you had any small injuries you get rid of them during the break. It was perfect.
“It was a mental break. It’s great to be back, you feel excited.”
The brisk practice at Belfor Training Center lasted approximately an hour, and satisfied coach Jeff Blashill, considering the lengthy break from hockey.
“The energy was great, spirits were good,” Blashill said. “Guys seemed refreshed, which is what you want to gain from a break. I’d say the execution was pretty good in terms of puck skills — they’re knocking some rust off.
“Overall I was happy with practice. I know I was pumped to be back at practice. That’s what we love to do and it was great to be back at it.”
For the players who got away from the polar weather conditions in Michigan, it appeared Mexico was the popular destination.
And, truth be told, it was tough to leave.
“It was 80 (degrees) when I left,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “It was different.”
Blashill spent time with his family — but couldn’t totally get away from hockey.
“I was able to watch the (Grand Rapids) Griffins play, I was able to watch my kids play hockey, and had a little getaway with my family so it was great,” Blashill said.
Blashill said defenseman Dennis Cholowski will be back in the lineup Friday against Toronto, after sitting the last two games before the break.
The Wings sent defenseman Filip Hronek back to Grand Rapids, and will keep Hronek in the minor leagues for now.
“We wanted to make sure Fil kept playing during the break,” said Blashill, explaining the decision to return Hronek. “We made the decision to leave him down there for now. Some of that goes into his long-term development, too. Between the guys we have here, we’d like to make sure he’s running the power play. He’s a guy who can kill penalties.
“I have lots of belief in Fil long term for us. In time, he can push to be a top-4 type of defenseman if he manages his game great, meaning, he plays great defensively, be hard on the puck, and create offense without taking unneeded chances.”
Blashill hopes Cholowski’s time watching will benefit the young defenseman.
“There’s multiple benefits to sitting,” Blashill said. “Sometimes it really makes you dig in, makes you look in the mirror and say, ‘What do I got to do to be better?’ It’s one thing for the coach to say you have to be better at this, it’s another when you get slapped a little bit.
“Dennis has very, very good offensive ability. Dennis is going to be a very good player. He’s very young.”
Blashill wants Cholowski to be cognizant of the defensive end.
“You have to make sure you continue to grow the defensive side of the game for sure,” Blashill said. “This is a league where you can’t outscore your mistakes. He’s finding that out.”
Blashill said all the injuries on the Wings’ defense has forced Cholowski to be “thrown into the fire.”
“(Instead of) easing his way into the National Hockey League he’s been thrown into the fire too many times and all of a sudden you lose a little bit of confidence,” Blashill said.
The Wings sent forward Michael Rasmussen to Grand Rapids Wednesday for a conditioning stint.
Rasmussen, whose hamstring had been bothering him, hadn’t played since Jan. 4.
“It’s been a long stretch, and between the injury and then the break, he hadn’t played,” Blashill said. “It would be better for his development to play a couple of games in Grand Rapids.”
Blashill said Rasmussen will return after playing two games with the Griffins.
Tyler Bertuzzi (long term) will miss these next two games this weekend, still recovering from a hit along the boards suffered in the last game before the break in Edmonton.
… Defenseman Trevor Daley (foot) is another seven to 10 days from returning to the lineup, Blashill said.
Maple Leafs at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: Toronto (30-17-2, 62 points) won four of its last 10 games before the break. … RW Mitch Marner (62 points), C John Tavares (30 goals) and C Auston Matthews (21 goals) headline a powerful offensive team. … Fans are urged to arrive early for the 7 p.m. jersey retirement ceremony for Red Kelly.