Red Wings' top line showing signs of dominating again
Detroit — Toward the end of last season, the line of Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi was one of the best in the NHL and carried the Red Wings to a late-season surge.
The trio might be doing it again.
Sunday’s 5-4 shootout win over Tampa Bay — ending the Wings’ 16-game regular-season losing streak to the Lightning — was largely the work of Larkin’s line.
The line combined for 11 points — Mantha and Bertuzzi four each, Larkin with three — and showed all the elements to be a dangerous and productive unit.
“They’ve shown they have chemistry and at times, it's been great this year,” said coach Jeff Blashill, noting injuries to Mantha that have forced shuffling among the line combinations. “At times, it hasn’t been good enough, but at times, it’s been great.
“It’s a bit of a shame the injuries that Mantha has been through because they started the year so, so good. It would have been nice to see what they would have done without that interruption. But it’s a line that has good elements.”
The three players blend all the ingredients that coaches generally look for in a line.
Larkin with his ability to distribute, create, and set the pace. Bertuzzi adds grit, but also sneaky offensive ability. Mantha has size, goal-scoring ability, and underrated passing.
“When they’re going at a high level, they’re dangerous,” Blashill said.
The way Larkin’s line controlled play Sunday and lit up the scoreboard, it gives the Wings some potential excitement these final weeks of the season.
“The chemistry is coming back,” said Mantha, who had a goal and three assists against Tampa Bay. “We kind of saw a glimpse of how we finished last year, and hopefully it can go that way until the end of this season.”
Larkin wants to see his line finish strong, and continue making an impact into next season.
Because of Mantha’s injuries, and some cold spells even with Mantha healthy and the trio playing together, Blashill had to break the three players apart.
“At times this year we’ve shown we can be a good line,” Larkin said. “We want to be a great line when it matters. This hockey matters to us right now. We’re playing for our roles, our jobs, playing toward building something bigger than this year.
“It feels good to have a game where it just came to us and we didn’t really force a whole lot.”
Fabbri's move paying off
Blashill moved Robby Fabbri from wing to center two games ago, and the switch has been successful.
Fabbri has goals in the last two games, scored the eventual shootout-winning goal Sunday, and looks comfortable playing in a position he played extensively in junior hockey, but not as consistently in the pros.
“I’ve liked Fabbs at center,” Blashill said. “He’s pretty smart in his own end, he’s won faceoffs well for a guy that hasn’t taken many. I like him getting the puck in the middle of the ice.”
Given the Wings’ lowly place in the standings, they have been able to experiment with different players in different situations.
Playing Fabbri at center was a natural, given his success there at times throughout his career.
“Especially when you’re in this situation, we’ve got nothing to lose,” Blashill aid. “He came into the NHL as a center, but really hasn’t had the opportunity to be a center. So I just thought let’s try him at center and see if it ignites his game even more — and he’s done a good job with it.”
The Wings announced Monday they’ve signed defenseman Alex Biega to a one-year contract extension worth $875,000.
Biega, 31, could have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He was acquired from Vancouver for David Pope on Oct. 6 and has played 48 games with the Wings this season with three points (all assists).
Over the last month, Biega has averaged almost 20 minutes of ice time (19:38).
... Bertuzzi reached the 20-goal mark for the second consecutive season.
Hurricanes at Red Wings
► Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit.
► TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Wings have an excellent opportunity to play spoiler against the Hurricanes (37-25-5), who are clinging to a playoff berth. …C Sebastian Aho (36 goals, 63 points) and RW Andrei Svechnikov (24 goals) lead a young, maturing team.