Red Wings' 'Guelph Line' offering balance for coach Jeff Blashill
Detroit — Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill put Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri and Pius Suter together on what’s become known as the “Guelph Line” on Jan. 15, and they’ve produced ever since.
Bertuzzi got Detroit’s first goal in Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers with assists from Fabbri and Suter. That makes 13 goals in 11 games for the No. 2 line.
“They’re an excellent line,” Blashill said. “We just have to make sure they’re doing that all the time. We have to make sure we’re dangerous offensively without being dangerous defensively.
“Certainly, that line gives us two dangerous lines offensively.”
Bertuzzi had been on the No. 1 line centered by Dylan Larkin, and separating the team’s far-and-away top goal scorers has provided better balance.
Blashill, however, added that the entire team needs to work on playing strong defense in addition to scoring goals. Detroit’s back-to-back wins over Philadelphia (15-24-8) have come with a combined score of 10-5.
And it’s interesting that 10 different players scored those 10 goals, with all lines contributing. That improved scoring balance is what Blashill had in mind when he made the line adjustments.
Suter, Fabbri and Bertuzzi played together in the Canadian junior league for the Guelph Storm’s 2013-14 Ontario Hockey League champions and were three of that team’s top four scorers the next season.
What prompted Blashill to put them together in Detroit?
“As the year went on,” said Blashill, “we started going into a rut. We were almost becoming a one-line team, and I don’t think we can win that way. So, I tried to spread it out a bit.
“Bert, I think, is a good enough player that he can carry a line a little bit. He can be a huge impact on any line he goes onto. Those guys played together in juniors, and Fabs and Bert have real good chemistry. Sutes does a real good job of making plays for them, and he’s also a pretty good defensive player.
“So, I thought it was a line that could have a lot of success. The question at that time was: ‘Could Larks’ line produce without Bert?’ And so far, that answer’s been, ‘Yes.’ ”
Bertruzzi (23 goals, 42 points) was replaced on the line with Larkin (49 points, 24 goals) by Vladislav Namestnikov (13 goals, 23 points) before Filip Zadina (six goals, 15 points) was moved to the other forward spot two games ago on the line along with rookie right wing Lucas Raymond (12 goals, 38 points).
Bertuzzi has six goals and 14 points in the 11 games since he’s moved onto the “Guelph Line” with Fabbri getting four goals and 10 points and Suter contributing three goals and five points in that span.
“Their line has moved the puck so well,” said Larkin, the Red Wings captain, “and all three of them have skill. They’ve been incredible for us … and it’s great for our team. It adds another whole dimension to our team, and it helps all four lines because it makes it harder to match up against us.”
Chasing the wild card
Detroit (22-21-6, 50 points) is seven points behind Boston (27-16-3, 57 points) for a final wild-card berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We’re right there and we haven’t been there in a couple seasons,” said Larkin, whose team last made the playoffs in 2016. “It’s been a couple seasons, and this is why you play, and I’ve seen it here at playoff time in Detroit.
“‘April in the D’ they call it, and it’s just the most exciting time to be a Red Wing. The city gets behind you. They’ve been great all year, but they take it to another level, and I think the guys realize what’s at stake every night and really try to rally around it.”
Blashill added: “It’s a better spot (to be in). We’ve been in the other spot. It’s a grind, and we have to push as hard as we can through a tough schedule. We have to keep getting better, and you have to learn lessons after you win, too. There’s some lessons that we have to learn from tonight.”
Detroit moved above .500 for the first time since Jan. 21.
Blashill honors Beckmann
Longtime Detroit radio and television broadcaster Frank Beckmann recently entered hospice care, and Blashill began his postgame press conference by paying tribute to him.
“My heart certainly goes out to him and his family,” Blashill said. “He’s a great, great man.”
Defenseman Troy Stecher returned from wrist surgery after missing 37 games. He played 15:03 with three shots.
... Detroit recalled defenseman Dan Renouf from Grand Rapids. He was a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game. Renouf has played four games for the Red Wings this season, averaging 14:00 a contest with four hits, two blocks and no scoring. He did register three assists last season for the Colorado Avalanche, and leads the Griffins with a plus-12 rating.
... Jimmy Howard, Detroit’s career saves percentage leader (.912) and an All-Star in 2012 and 2014, was in attendance and received a hearty ovation when shown on the arena’s overhead scoreboard screen. He retired Jan. 28, 2021 after 14 seasons.
Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.