Red Wings’ Taro Hirose shows signs of breaking long silence

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — It was the type of play that Taro Hirose is known for, and yes, needs to do more often.

Saturday in New Jersey, in the second period against the Devils, Hirose skated through the slot, found an open spot on the ice, no Devils around him.

Taro Hirose

Madison Bowey centered a pass and Hirose got it, and quickly snapped the puck past goalie Louis Domingue.

It was only Hirose’s second goal of the season, but his second goal in a three-game span.

“I was just going toward the net and Bows made a great play, found me in the slot,” Hirose said. “It was good to see the puck go in the net.”

Thus far, this isn’t the type of season Hirose envisioned.

Expected to be a key part of the second line, part of a group that would be needed to provide secondary scoring, Hirose has been largely silent. In 21 games, Hirose has seven points (two goals, five assists) with a minus-9 rating, and has been a healthy scratch five times.

The late-season surge Hirose showed in March, after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State, just hasn’t yet been duplicated.

“With Taro’s size and speed, he has to really learn how to be unbelievably crafty,” Blashill said. “It’s hard for him because he’s getting outmuscled (along the walls). He has to find ways to be unbelievably crafty to make sure he keeps possession of the puck. That’s something that takes time.

“He’s somebody, if he’s anything, he’s going to be an offensive player. (And) he’s a very smart player, smart defensively. I never have any worries putting him on the ice against anybody.”

Specifically on the power play, in the season’s opening weeks, Hirose was making similar plays to last March, finding teammates for quality scoring chances.

But this season, unlike last, the pucks didn’t go in the net.

“He’s made plays, to be honest with you; they haven’t ended up in the net,” Blashill said. “That’s not necessarily his fault. He’s put pucks on guys’ sticks and they haven’t ended up in the net."

Hirose has looked more comfortable and effective since returning from several healthy scratches the beginning of a California road trip two weeks ago.

He’s been more aggressive offensively and looking to make plays.

“For sure you’re getting more comfortable out there, making plays,” Hirose said. “But for me, it’s just managing the puck a lot better and not making risky plays with the puck and making sure when I’m out there, the puck is in the offensive zone and we’re just trying to create momentum for the rest of the team.”

Steady McIlrath

Defenseman Dylan McIlrath continues to provide steadiness on the blue line, along with a physical edge, since being recalled from Grand Rapids.

McIlrath, in 10 games, has a minus-1 rating, and has done effective work on the penalty kill, while averaging 14:40 per game.

“Not just size and toughness, he’s got a personality that’s awesome,” Blashill said. “He just brings life to your team, whether in the minors or here, he does a great job with that.

“He’s very strong defensively, so when he gets in battles, he can create stalls in the defensive zone. When he gets the puck on his stick, he can get his butt out and take that extra second to make a play.

“Having him in there gives us another big defenseman that makes it a little harder to play against.”

Ice chips

There was no further update on Anthony Mantha, who was injured Saturday and missed Sunday’s loss against Carolina. Blashill is expected to have an update Tuesday on both Mantha and Adam Erne (hand).

… The Wings are winless six games and it’s not getting any easier. Wednesday’s game against Toronto begins a stretch of four games in six days, all against teams in the playoff mix or within two points of the playoffs, right now.

Twitter: @tkulfan