Vladislav Namestnikov's offense catching up to defense for Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — There was a stretch at the start of the season that goals just weren't happening for Vladislav Namestnikov, a Red Wings' free-agent acquisition during the offseason.

And, sure, the offense would have been nice, as the entire roster seemingly was in a slump.

Red Wings forward Vladislav Namestnikov has five goals and five assists on the season, entering Sunday's game.

But the thing with Namestnikov's game, as it's been throughout his career, is he is a player who can help a team on the defensive end, too.

For that reason, it was easy for the coaching staff to wait until Namestnikov's offensive game caught up.

"There's different ways to contribute," Namestnikov said. "Obviously if it's not going in for you (offensively), there's other ways (to help). Defense is a very important part of the game, and if it's (the puck) not going in, you can focus more on the defensive side."

The nephew of former Red Wings forward Slava Kozlov, Namestnikov grew up in the Russia junior hockey system before moving to North America to play for London in the Ontario Hockey League.

Namestnikov gives credit to London owners/coaches Mark and Dale Hunter for establishing how important it is to play a trustworthy defensive game for the next level in hockey.

"Growing up and playing in Russia, it's a little different hockey over there," Namestnikov said. "When I came over to London, and playing for the Hunters, they taught me how there's two sides of the game, the offensive and defensive side, and that's where it all started.

"I picked it up from there and worked on my game from there."

Namestnikov has played several games now centering Sam Gagner and Filip Zadina, and the line seems to be developing chemistry.

Both wingers are skilled, fast players who see the ice well, and can play off the versatile Namestnikov.

"We just read off each other," Namestnikov said. "They're both smart players and we read off each other. Both of them are very skilled and fast. We've been together now for a couple of games here, and we're building chemistry with each practice, and we're getting better."

Namestnikov always has made his offseason home in the Detroit area, going back to living with Kozlov when he was a Red Wing, so it always felt it was just a matter of time before Namestnikov became a Red Wing.

By signing a two-year contract in the offseason, Namestnikov was able to strengthen some roots, and not necessarily worry about being dealt, after being with three teams last season.

"I try not to think about it ever," Namestnikov said of worrying about trades. "I'm kind of day to day, and focus on the game. That (trades) part is out of our control."

The adjustment to the Wings has been rather smooth for Namestnikov.

"I knew all the guys coming in, so that part wasn't a problem," Namestnikov said. "I skated with them all summer, so they welcomed me with open arms, so that wasn't bad. It was just figuring out the systems and getting used to that stuff."

Offense coming alive

The Wings scored a season-high six goals in Thursday's victory over Tampa Bay, and had back-to-back five-goal games two weeks ago,  as the offense has generally perked up.

Coach Jeff Blashill is seeing confidence brewing on the offensive end.

"As I said to the guys before (Saturday's) practice, scoring does matter, and when you score, you’re allowed to make mistakes, and when you don’t score, you can’t make any mistakes,” Blashill said. “The fact we were able to score, and we’ve scored a little bit more in the last little bit, it gives confidence to everybody on the ice that we can have a game where you get down early and can come back.

"We scored some nice goals, and did some stuff you have to do to be successful. We’d love to be a team that can score to that level, (but) we also have to make sure we’re better defensively.”

Unselfish gesture

There was an interesting play at the end of Thursday's game against Tampa Bay, when Anthony Mantha had an easy opportunity for an empty net goal — and Mantha's second goal of that game.

But instead, Mantha gently tapped the puck over to Namestnikov, who was trailing on the play, and gave Namestnikov the opportunity for the easy tap-in goal.

It's the type of play that reverberates around the locker room, and showed something about Mantha, who has gone through a difficult first half to the season.

"It showed what type of person he is, very respected in the room," Namestnikov said. "Guys love him for that reason.

"It was very, very nice gesture for sure."

Blashill has been pleased with the professionalism and character of this roster from the start of training camp, and Mantha's play was a good example of that.

"Obviously it was an unselfish play," Blashill said. "Guys care about each other and want to be good teammates. It's a play that shows that our guys do care about each other and are good teammates and want to win for each other.

"They've dug in and worked together through hard times and that shows the character of people. We have a room full of character."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan