Detroit – There was something different from the Red Wings in their game Tuesday night against San Jose.
Aside from actually winning, that is.
The Wings played a much more gritty game against the bigger, physical Sharks.
The Wings showed signs of more physical play on the two-game road trip through Florida last weekend, and definitely extended that approach during Tuesday’s 2-0 victory.
Coach Jeff Blashill and the Red Wings players believe this could be the recipe for future success.
“The last three games have been pretty chippy, and we’ve been more physical,” said forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who celebrated his selection to the All-Star Game with his 15th goal. “That gets guys up on the bench and keeps the bench going and moving.”
The Sharks attempted to set a physical tone early when Joel Kellman hit Wings defenseman Brian Lashoff hard in the corner, a hit that kept Lashoff down on the ice momentarily.
But Alex Biega came to Lashoff’s defense and battled Kellman.
“We competed really, really hard on the puck,” Blashill said. “That’s what it takes. Basically, the game comes down to one-on-one battles and we did a real good job in those one-on-one battles,”
Later in the game, Justin Abdelkader and the Sharks’ Barclay Goodrow fought, and Bertuzzi and San Jose’s Stefan Noesen tangled.
The Sharks, on several occasions, went after defenseman Filip Hronek, whose empty-net goal clinched the victory and whose aggressive style got the Sharks’ unhinged.
“He plays with an edge and we need that,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “He’s not afraid to take a hit to make a play and not afraid to give a hit. I’m sure he’s frustrating to play against.”
Whenever San Jose wanted to establish itself physically, the Wings wouldn’t back down. It was a needed and successful way to play for the Wings.
“There are a lot of guys over there that like to play physical,” Larkin said. “We answered the bell. We were sticking up for each other. You saw that a couple of times when they were going after Bernie (goaltender Jonathan Bernier). That’s what they try to do when there’s a hot a goalie.
“We stuck up for Bernie and we stick up for each other. It feels good.”
Bernier has had an extended stretch of good goaltending and has consistently given the Wings opportunities for success in each of his outings.
Tuesday’s victory was Bernier’s eighth this season (8-11-2, 3.05 GAA, .905 SVS), and his and the Wings’ first shutout of the year. It was also the first time this season the Sharks have been shut out.
“I felt like there’s been a few games there have been some weird bounces, but you just have to stick with it and at some point, you work hard at practice and those bounces will turn,” Bernier said. “There were a couple saves tonight I got lucky and they just hit me. That’s hockey.
“They’re (the Sharks) a big team. I knew they have some really good (defensemen), so they like to put the puck on net and crash the net and get second chances. I just wanted to hold my ground and make the first save.”
The Wings have been competitive in the three games coming out of the holiday break, and the goaltending of Bernier and Jimmy Howard has been a key reason.
Bernier stood tall while the Wings killed all three Sharks power plays, including a big one in the third period with the game in the balance, and Bernier made several important stops during the game when the Wings broke down defensively, allowing prime scoring opportunities.
“It’s (goaltending) everything for us,” Larkin said. “The past two (games) he’s (Bernier) been on and it starts from there. He’s been our best penalty killer, bailed us out a couple of times, and it starts from there, it gives us confidence.”
Bert earns it
Bertuzzi said after Tuesday’s morning skate that a key reason he was selected for the All-Star Game was the fact that every team has to be represented.
Maybe so, but Bertuzzi’s statistics and season are worthy of the honor, and Blashill was quick to emphasize that after the victory over the Sharks.
“I know what Tyler is saying – we all have representatives (for the All-Star Game),” Blashill said. “What I would say is it’s a great reward for Tyler for a number of years of hard work and doing a real good job. He doesn’t want to take credit but he deserves the credit, he’s worked real hard to put himself in position where he is our selection as the All-Star.
“He’s a guy that cares a ton, plays and practices real hard, and guys are happy for him.”
This will be Bertuzzi's first appearance in the All-Star Game, which takes place Jan. 25 in St. Louis.