In search of balance, Red Wings put Zadina on top line with Larkin, Mantha

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — What can Filip Zadina do while playing with some of the Red Wings’ best offensive forwards?

The coaching staff will get an opportunity to see, as Zadina has been placed on a line with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha.

Filip Zadina has been placed on a line with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha.

That was the configuration for Friday’s practice, as coach Jeff Blashill wanted a more balanced and fresher look throughout the lineup.

Blashill bumped Tyler Bertuzzi from the Larkin line to the second line, with Valtteri Filppula and Robby Fabbri, while searching for a bit more of a physical edge on that line, which Bertuzzi can provide.

But it’s Zadina playing with Larkin and Mantha that will surely interest Wings’ Saturday in Toronto (7 p.m., FSD/97.1).

“What playing with Larkin and Mantha does, is when they’re on their game, you don’t have to carry a line. You can be a guy who can kind of just play with them. We need Larks and Mantha to be going at a high level and if that’s the case, it gives Zadina a chance to probably get some real looks.

“Whether it’s real looks to make a play, or looks to shoot the puck in the net, hopefully he does both.”

Blashill insisted this wasn’t about Zadina gravitating to the top line with his play, but more about the look of the overall lineup.

Zadina arguably is coming off his least impressive game in Tuesday’s loss to Columbus, when he had four giveaways in almost 13 minutes of ice time, so it's not like Zadina is coming off a highlight-reel game.

“It’s not like he played an unbelievable game and I said I have to get him on the top line,” Blashill said. “It’s way more to do with the makeup of all the other lines, specifically the Filppula line.

“I wanted to a little more grit on that line, and Bert gives that line some grit, net presence, some hardness. The Bert, Larkin and Mantha line had a real struggle last game, so we’re going to mix it up.”

More: Red Wings' Tyler Bertuzzi lives up to 'hockey player' accolade

In 11 games since being recalled from Grand Rapids, Zadina has two goals and five assists.

“He’s a good skilled payer that can shoot the puck in the net and make plays,” Blashill said. “Hopefully he can become an elite skilled player that can shoot the puck in the net and make plays.”

Zadina was pleased to get the opportunity to play with Larkin and Mantha, arguably the Wings’ best offensive forwards.

“They’re awesome players, very skilled,” Zadina said. “It’s great for me to play with them. I just want to do my best and play good hockey with them.”

Larkin has played sparingly with Zadina thus far this season, but likes the ability and competitiveness Zadina brings to the ice.

“You see him on the forecheck, you see him playing hard, he’s been a good spark for our team,” Larkin said. “I’m excited. Even today in practice, we were looking for each other. He’s a smart player, he finds himself in good spots to get passes and makes it easy for his linemates.”

Zadina is only 20, and in his second professional season. Larkin feels it takes time for any young player to get comfortable and confident in the NHL — which Zadina seems to be doing this season.

“It’s hard, and I’m in my fifth year” said Larkin, 23. “You have to evolve, find different ways to produce, figure out the game. He’s a mature guy, and he wants it real bad. He put in the work over the summer away from the rink.

“He’s getting his chance.”

Ice chips

Goaltender Jonathan Bernier was expected to start against the Maple Leafs, with Jimmy Howard returning to face Arizona on Sunday. Howard has been unavailable since suffering a lower-body injury Nov. 27 against Toronto. Howard was scheduled to get a start for minor league affiliate Grand Rapids Friday in Iowa.

... Judging from Friday's practice lines, Justin Abdelkader might be headed for a second consecutive healthy scratch. Adam Erne, Frans Nielsen and Brendan Perlini continued to be the fourth line, with Abdelkader and Christoffer Ehn, working in.

... Defensman Brian Lashoff might get in the lineup Saturday, as Lashoff was working with Madison Bowey as the third pairing.

Red Wings at Maple Leafs

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Scotiabank Arena. Toronto

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Maple Leafs (17-14-4) have won the only other game between the teams this season. This is the second of four games against the Wings this season. … The Leafs rank ninth in goals per game (3.26), behind an attack led by C Auston Matthews (24 goals), RW Mitch Marner (20 assists) and D Morgan Rielly (20 assists).

Twitter: @tkulfan