Filip Zadina developing net presence with Red Wings, could be 'huge element' to his game
Maybe Filip Zadina is learning the importance of playing around the net.
Zadina has been noticeable in that prime real estate the last several games, and it led to points in three of four contests and led coach Jeff Blashill to shift Zadina to the first line with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond.
Zadina appears to be playing with a bit more confidence as the second half of the season began Wednesday in Philadelphia. Playing with Larkin and Raymond should be inspiring, also, although Blashill wants Zadina to remember where the opposing net is.
"That’s an area he didn’t grow up doing," Blashill said of the hard-nosed area. "A lot of guys have to learn how important it is to get to the net, in front of people’s eyes. I don’t know if Viktor Arvidsson (Los Angeles) always did that, but he does it. He’s a small guy and he’s good at the net-front. That can add a huge element.
"I’m not saying that would be Z’s job, but that’s an area he has to get to if he’s going to play on that line.”
Arvidsson isn't the only smaller player in the NHL who has made a living scoring around the net on rebounds, or knocking in loose pucks, or redirecting shots. Robby Fabbri, Pius Suter and Vladislav Namestnikov are smaller Wings forwards who've had success this season while battling near the net.
“Fabbs would be a good model,” Blashill said. “They’re both slight, not big, big men. But they go to the net. At the end of the day, that’s where goals are scored. The more we get to the cage the more consistent point production we’ll have as a team and as individuals.”
By moving Zadina to the top line, Blashill returned Namestnikov to the third line with Michael Rasmussen and Adam Erne. Blashill didn't touch the line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Suter and Fabbri, which has been consistently dangerous offensively since being put together.
The Rasmussen line has been together a portion of the season, and has done a quality job as a hard-working, relentless trio.
"They’ve bought into grinding in the (offensive) zone, putting pucks in behind them," Blashill said. "Vlade can play a lot of different ways, and he’s done a good job on Larks’ line, and if it ends up hurting Larks’ line, we might move him back. I also think he can play north and give them some skill, some ability to score around the net."
Wednesday's game was only the second this month, as the Wings only play a total of seven games in February.
The NHL was expecting to participate in the Winter Olympics. But when COVID-19 ravaged teams in December causing more than 100 game postponements, the NHL and the players' association decided to forego the Olympics in order to use the three-week window that was supposed to be Olympic participation to make up postponements.
Still, for Blashill and his coaching staff, it'll be a delicate balance.
Maximize the time off between games and get quality rest, while being mentally and physically ready for the spaced-out, limited number of games.
"It's going to be incumbent upon our players to understand the importance of each practice," Blashill said. "We're taking a couple extra days off at certain times, so it doesn't become so mundane Usually at this time of year you're playing lots and you keep playing.
"It's easy to get the guys excited about practice in October, (but) it's a little bit harder in February. We're going to have to change our approach and make sure we're excited about practice every day when we go out there."
The lack of games also makes it difficult to keep both goaltenders sharp.
Alex Nedeljkovic has taken a significantly larger workload in the last month, as Nedeljkovic's hot streak combined with Thomas Greiss being put in COVID-19 protocol kept Greiss out of the lineup.
Greiss hasn't played since losing 4-3 in overtime Jan. 9 in Anaheim.
"Certainly we have a plan, and watching guys and how good they play, we have a thought process and plan, but we'll also take it day by day," Blashill said. "Greiss will be a big piece of the second half, there's no doubt. To what degree, I don't know, but when he gets opportunities to play we need hi to play great for us, just like we need Alex to play great.
"When they both are playing great, that's better for us. We're not going to play one goalie for the 30-plus games we have left. We're going to play both goalies and we need them to be as great as possible."
Defensemen Nick Leddy (upper body) and Troy Stecher (wrist) didn't make the trip to Philadelphia, but both are close to returning, especially Leddy, who has now missed two consecutive games.
Stecher hasn't played since Nov. 4, but has begun practicing with the Wings.