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Line Juggling Brings More Balance to Red Wings Top Six

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Tyler Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings
Moving Tyler Bertuzzi to the second line and elevating Vlad Namestnikov to the top unit, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill seeks scoring balance.

Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill is no different than anyone else. He understands and recognizes the value of balance in a happy, productive lifestyle.

Offensively, his hockey club was proving to be an all-their-eggs-in-one-basket bunch. If the top forward unit of captain Dylan Larkin between Tyler Bertuzzi and rooke Lucas Raymond didn’t score, often, neither did the Red Wings.

The trio of Bertuzzi (18), Larkin (16) and Raymond (11) have accounted for 45 of Detroit’s 105 goals. That’s 42.8% of all the club’s scoring. No wonder the Wings have been shutout an NHL-high five times.

Blashill knew that this productive imbalance couldn’t continue. While he was initially reluctant to mess with the obvious chemistry that exists between Larkin, Raymond and Bertuzzi, something had to be done to ignite the second line.

Blashill tried several left-wingers this season alongside center Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri. Filip Zadina started the season there. Vladislav Namestnikov, Givani Smith, Michael Rasmussen and Joe Veleno all took turns auditioning.

Finally, Blashill made the decision that he would be slotting Bertuzzi in there for Saturday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, and he fit like a glove.

“Ultimately as we’ve gone through this, too many chances were only generated by the Larkin line,” Blashill said. “We felt we needed more.

“We were looking for someone to play on that line with Fabbs and Suits and I think Bert definitely filled that role great.”

Balance In Red Wings Scoring

Bertuzzi and Fabbri each scored in the 4-0 win over the Sabres. Granted, both were power-play goals but it was easy to see that at 5-on-5 that the new formula was working. Bertuzzi (six), Fabbri (six) and Suter (two) combined for 14 shots on goal.

There is past history with the group. They played briefly as a forward unit with the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm.

“I think Bert’s the level of player that he can really help any line he goes on,” Blashill said. “Bert, Fabbs and Suits, they looked like they had good chemistry. I thought they were really good.

“You got a really smart, playmaking center, you got a real good shooter in Fabbs, who plays hard and a guy who can do a little bit of everything, including going to the net hard and be hard on pucks. So I like the makeup of that line.”

Namestnikov also fit nicely with Larkin and Raymond. The latter scored to end his 14-game goalless drought on assists from Larkin and Namestnikov.

“I thought he did a good job,” Blashill said of Namestnikov. “I think that’s what Vladdy can do, he can move up.”

Two Scoring Lines

In today’s fluid NHL, line combinations are seldom written in stone. Certainly, Blashill will stick with this formation for Monday afternoon’s return match with the Sabres in Buffalo. How much further he goes with it will depend on if they continue to keep on clicking.

“I think it’s critical to have balance,” Blashill said. “You then look at it and you feel like you have two real dangerous offensive lines.

“You’re not going to win in this league with one line. It’s just the reality of it. You gotta have multiple lines that can impact most nights.

“Certainly, we’re given that with Bert on that line. It allows for two lines that could be real good scoring lines.”

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