Tyler Bertuzzi

Rebuilding Red Wings counting on Larkin, Mantha, Bertuzzi

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DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings ended a third straight season without a postseason bid, counting on a core of players 24 years old and younger to end the postseason drought next year.

Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Bertuzzi each set career highs for scoring and Anthony Mantha matched his highest point total.

Even though Detroit had more points in the standings than just three teams in the NHL, the quartet is generating hope for the future.

”It’s extremely satisfying to see what these young guys can do,” 38-year-old defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. ”I think if people can stay patient with this process, Larkin is going to lead the way to bring the franchise back to where we all want it to be.”

Thomas Vanek, a 35-year-old wing, saw the young group grow collectively and individually late in the season.

”Confidence is never given,” Vanek said. ”Confidence has to be earned. They earned it in a game or two, then all the sudden Mantha goes from 6-5 to 6-8 and he’s a different player.”

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The 22-year-old Larkin took a step toward living up to the $30.5 million, five-year deal last summer, scoring a career-high 32 goals and having 73 points to lead the team. He also played with some toughness, becoming the first player in franchise history to lead the team in goals, points and penalty minutes in same season since 1927.

Larkin, though, was not happy with the team’s performance in a 7-1 loss to Buffalo at home on Saturday to close with two straight losses after winning a season-high six games.

”It’s tough, especially with the way we’ve been playing in the past couple of weeks, to finish like this,” he said.

Mantha, likewise, was not ready his development and production because of the year the Red Wings had as a team.

”Our team’s almost dead last in the league and we’re not even close to playoffs so that’s the big picture,” he said. ”Personally, I think I took strides. I think a lot of guys in here took strides and hopefully we can bring it on a different level next year.”

The Red Wings ended talk about who would be their coach next season, giving coach Jeff Blashill a two-year contract extension earlier this month. They also decided to stick with goaltender Jimmy Howard, signing him to a one-year deal last month to keep him under contract next year.

It may take longer to know if former Red Wings great Steve Yzerman is going to come back to lead the front office.

General manager Ken Holland, who made the decision to keep Blashill, has one year left on his contract. Yzerman could potentially come back to work for the Red Wings after Tampa Bay’s season ends, nearly a year after he stepped down as the Lightning’s general manager.

No matter who is coaching or running the franchise, the Red Wings desperately need Larkin, Athanasiou, Bertuzzi and Mantha to lead the way on the ice.

”Can they carry a hockey team to wins? That’s a big question they’ll answer on a nightly basis next year,” Blashill said. ”It’s a heck of a responsibility. I don’t think there’s very many young players throughout the league that are able to carry their team. We’re going to ask that group of four up front to be a huge piece to carrying this team and they’re going to have to spend the summer getting way better.”

The Red Wings are likely not ready to be major players in free agency because they’re more than a player or two away from contending for a championship. They will have some decisions to make with their own players eligible to be unrestricted free agents, including Kronwall, who played 79 games for a second straight year to show he can stay healthy and be productive.

Kronwall said he hasn’t decided if he wants to play another season or retire.

”He’s made a huge argument that he can for sure play one more season and good for him,” Blashill said. ”He’s put himself in a spot where he can make that decision. He’s not being forced in that decision. The decision, I think, ultimately, will be his.”

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Red Wings’ Bertuzzi suspended two games for punch

NHL
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An ill-advised knuckle sandwich thrown while on his own bench has cost Detroit Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi two games.

Bertuzzi was caught up in a fracas on Sunday night with Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Calvert when the infraction happened.

Red Wings defenseman Mike Green delivered a solid check to Calvert, whose stick found its way onto the Red Wings bench.

Bertuzzi grabbed his stick and Calvert took exception, sparking a melee that including Red Wings forward Dylan Larking and ended after Bertuzzi dropped the glove off his right hand and punched a defenseless Calvert.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety labeled Bertuzzi’s actions as “unsportsmanlike conduct and roughing,” ultimately handing him the two-game ban.

The sequence can be seen here:

George Parros noted in his suspension video that the Red Wings weren’t merely defending themselves from flying sticks or bodies.

Parros also pointed out that Bertuzzi threw two punches on the play — the first while Larkin was tussling with Calvert and the second when Calvert’s head was down.

Bertuzzi has no prior history with the DoPS. He will forfeit $15,053.76, money that goes into the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Mrazek, Mantha help Red Wings down Blackhawks

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You kind of get the feeling that teams heading onto their mandatory week off would like to start forgoing that last game before the break.

The Winnipeg Jets lost 4-1 in the game they failed to show up to on Saturday. On Friday, the Columbus Blue Jackets got trounced 5-2 in the game before they got a break.

And on Sunday, the Chicago Blackhawks seemed checked out in a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, a team who played 24 hours earlier and lost handily 4-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Hell, even Jeff Glass couldn’t save the Blackhawks, who got outworked from what seemed like the opening puck drop.

Dylan Larkin gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead just over four minutes into the first period.

Andreas Athanasiou showed his speed as he worked past Blackhawks’ defenders down low, before sliding a pass out to Larkin, who was perched in the slot.

Larkin made no mistake, given the opportunity, as he notched his seventh of the season.

Mike Green showed why he was named an NHL all-star this past week for the Red Wings second goal, which doubled their advantage just over two minutes later.

Gustav Nyquist gained the Blackhawks’ zone and dropped a pass to Anthony Mantha, who took one look to Green and fed him a cross-ice pass that Green one-timed past and outstretched Glass.

It was Green’s 25th point of the season, and couple with his all-star nod, Green, who is set to become a free agent in the offseason, keeps building a case for himself to be traded to a contender when the deadline comes around.

Mantha grabbed his second point of the game in the third period as he joined the rush off the bench.

Mantha let Henrik Zetterberg know he was flying into the zone starting from the time he jumped onto the ice, and Zetterberg dropped the puck to Mantha, allowing for a nice wrist shot that beat Glass high for a 3-0 lead.

Tyler Bertuzzi, the nephew of Todd who came into the game without his first-career NHL goal, checked that item off his to-do list later in the period.

Bertuzzi parked himself in front of Glass’s doorstep and whacked home a rebound after Nick Jensen‘s shot from the slot was saved.

Meanwhile, Petr Mrazek kept things tidy in the crease for the Red Wings, stopping all 27 shots he faced.

The Blackhawks didn’t test him all that much, but Mrazek, who has struggled this season, turned aside 12 third-period shots en route to the win.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck