Detroit Red Wings v San Jose Sharks

Todd Bertuzzi prepares to form next ‘two kids and a goat’ line in Detroit

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About a decade ago, Pavel Datsyuk, Boyd Devereaux/Henrik Zetterberg and Brett Hull formed the “two kids and a goat” line for the Detroit Red Wings. Around that time, Todd Bertuzzi was coming into his own as a premier power forward with the Vancouver Canucks.

A lot has changed since then. Bertuzzi earned some fantastic honors (two All-Star appearances, love from fantasy hockey owners for his tendency to score goals and take penalties) before things fell apart after that ugly incident with Steve Moore in 2004. Meanwhile, on the Red Wings’ side, Hull eventually retired, Devereaux faded from the picture and you probably are well aware of how things turned out for Datsyuk and Zetterberg. (If you need clarification: things turned out extremely well for those two “kids.”)

All these years later, Bertuzzi’s found a mild dose of redemption as a decent top-six forward in Detroit, but it looks like he’ll play more of a third line role in 2011-12. Apparently that means he’ll tag along with two rambunctious youngsters in Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader (both 24). To Helene St. James, that means that Bertuzzi-Helm-Abdelkader might just represent the next version of the “two kids and a goat” line.

“It’s a little bit different, but at the same time, you’ve got to have some respect for Helmer and Abby,” Bertuzzi said. “They’re two tremendous players, young kids trying to establish themselves in the league and all that. They offer a lot. They’ve got a lot of speed and they work hard, so it’s just going to be something that if that’s where I’m slotted in, I just have to adjust my game and find a way to complement them.”

Bertuzzi and Helm sit next to each other at Joe Louis Arena and get along very well. Helm had just the right amount of glint in his eyes when he was asked about his new right winger, replying, “I hope I can match his speed and intensity. I wasn’t on the ice when he scored today, so maybe that’s what needs to happen. No, hopefully we can find a way to click. I think we can be a good line. Bert and Abby have more offensive upside than I do, but I think we can be a line that can shut teams down and also contribute.”

(I guess this means that we’ll probably need to wait at least another season for a spiritual sequel to “The Grind Line,” at least if this trio sticks.)

Without seeing that interesting mix in action, the idea might have some legs. Bertuzzi is nowhere near the physical force he once was – possibly because he wants to avoid being cast as a villain again – but he still boasts impressive size. That being said, the best asset he’ll bring to a mostly-grinding line is his soft hands. Helm is particularly well known for possessing blazing speed yet suffering from a general inability to finish the great chances his legs create, so maybe having Bertuzzi around could fill in the blanks.

On the flip side, Bertuzzi is also known for taking his fair share of bad penalties. There could be some concern that his mental lapses might drag down his younger, defensive-minded partners.

Of course, the Red Wings have a few weeks to iron out the wrinkles or throw out that idea altogether. Don’t be surprised if this odd mix ends up being a subtle success during a pivotal season in Detroit, though.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado