Detroit – The way Taro Hirose played late last season, there was a feeling the Red Wings might have uncovered a gem.
Hirose was an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State, who entered the lineup in the season’s final 10 games and impressed with seven points (one goal, six assists) and strong instincts.
But this season it's been a struggle.
Hirose entered Sunday night’s game with three points (all assists) in 11 games with a minus-5 rating.
Along with a lengthy list of Red Wings forwards, Hirose simply hasn’t been able to generate offense in what’s been an anemic attack.
“I don’t necessarily see pressing, I don’t see him gripping his stick, he just hasn’t been able to produce a whole bunch yet,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s made a couple of unreal plays on the power play that haven’t been rewarded with goals that probably should have been.”
It’s on the power play where Hirose is expected to thrive, with his ability to find open players and dissect seams and openings on the ice.
Hirose has found Anthony Mantha for Mantha’s dangerous one-timers on the power play a couple of occasions. But playing 5-on-5, mainly on Andreas Athanasiou’s line, it’s been a struggle.
“That’s (power play) where he needs to be special and where he’s probably going to be special,” Blashill said. “He’s a littler guy (5-10, 160), who isn’t super fast, so 5-on-5 offense is not easy for him. He has to play with other guys when he gets the puck and self-creates. They have to finish and right now nobody is finishing.”
Test of toughness
Going through this losing streak, which was at seven games heading into Sunday, hasn’t been easy for the Wings.
But many of the players have gone through similar streaks either in the NHL, or minor or junior leagues, and understand what it takes to get out of it.
“It tests your mental toughness but we’ve had guys, unfortunately, who’ve gone through this before,” Blashill said. “We understand it. We have to keep paying and keep playing good hockey. That doesn’t guarantee results, but if you do it over and over, you will get the results.
“I believe in our guys and the toughness they have mentally. You get tested every day in this league, win or losing streak. We’ll keep grinding.”
Givani Smith played 11 minutes in his NHL debut Friday and showed glimpses of his physicality that could have an impact on the Wings in the future.
“He played great, he was really excited before the game,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “He brought a physicality and a size and speed to our game. When he was out there, he was really effective on the forecheck and and made some nice plays and was a big body on the power play."
Blashill was pleased with Smith’s work on the power play, providing a big net-front body.
“He’s a big guy who goes to the net hard,” Blashill said. “He’s a big presence on the power play, both from a net presence and from puck retrieval and he did a pretty good job.”
Not cashing in
Andreas Athanasiou is another offensive forward who finds himself struggling, with no goals in nine games.
Blashill compares Athanasiou to a home-run hitter, a player who is capable of huge, highlight-reel plays, but it just isn’t happening for him currently.
“He’s getting similar chances to what he got last year,” Blashill said. “Double-A is kind of a home-run hitter, he gets big chances. He doesn’t necessarily produce tons of those dirty type of chances. He looks for those big chances because of his speed.
“He has to find a way to start finishing on those chances and he’s got to find a way to bring that second element, which is scoring dirty when you’re not scoring pretty.”