Tyler Bertuzzi's big opening night rates high with Wings coaches, teammates
Detroit — This year hasn't been easy for Tyler Bertuzzi.
He missed the majority of last season after injuring his back in the ninth game, not playing again and needing back surgery.
Bertuzzi had to go through a lengthy rehabilitation process to get ready for the season.
He decided not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, one of only four NHL players to make that choice, receiving a slew of unfavorable feedback on social media.
His fortunes shifted in Thursday's season-opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bertuzzi scored four goals, and was close to getting a fifth, in the Red Wings' 7-6 overtime loss.
"It was just good to be back out there," Bertuzzi said.
More: Red Wings' Dylan Larkin suspended one game by NHL for punch
The Wings' coaching staff rates every player on a 1-to-5 scale for every game. Coach Jeff Blashill said Friday rarely has a player received a five rating.
Bertuzzi achieved that mark.
"He got fives across the board from the coaching staff," Blashill said. "He was great in all areas of the ice. Obviously offensively, but defensively he tilted the ice a little bit, and he was good on the power play. He had an outstanding game and there certainly was a good vibe in the room."
Bertuzzi is one of the most popular players in the locker room.
"As I told you guys when the news came out Bert wasn't going to be vaccinated, our guys love Bert, he's a guy you want to be around," Blashill said. "He's a winner, a great competitor. Everyone knows he had to ground through most of last year rehabbing into the summer, and he had a late start to the exhibition season.
"For a start like that, it's awesome. He played excellent."
Fabbri in middle
With Dylan Larkin suspended Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks, Robby Fabbri will slide into Larkin's center spot between Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond.
Fabbri started last season at center, before eventually going back to wing. He has played center primarily in his junior career.
"I've done it back and forth, between wing (and center), the last few years, and growing up I've played center," Fabbri said. "I'm comfortable at all three positions up front."
Blashill had a few options, but felt Fabbri was a fit.
"Fabbs has played a decent amount of center, started the season last year at center, and Fabbs has played real good hockey so far this year," Blashill said. "He's in position to be successful in that spot. If needed, there are other guys who could have played center, but it's a guy who has kind of earned that top line kind of minutes. So I put him in that spot."
The Wings played only the seven other teams in their division last season, when the pandemic forced NHL realignment.
They opened the season Thursday against Tampa, one of those teams, so playing Vancouver is a welcome change. It's been all Tampa, Carolina, Florida, Nashville, Chicago, Dallas and Columbus since March 2020.
"It's a little bit of an adjustment, going back to normal from a preparation standpoint," Blashill said. "Last year we would have just watched the game tape against Tampa and made your adjustments and go back at it. But we get to see all the teams this season, so it'll be good."
Canucks at Red Wings
►Faceoff: 7 p.m., Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
►Outlook: The Canucks played Friday in Philadelphia, after opening the season Wednesday with a shootout loss in Edmonton. ... D Quinn Hughes (Michigan) and C Elias Pettersson are among the top young players at their positions in the NHL. ... G Jaroslav Halak is expected to start against the Wings.
— Ted Kulfan