DETROIT — You can call them the Red Wings of the future or the Grand Rapids Griffins call-ups, but it might be time for the Wings to call on them even more.
After the Wings dropped a 4-3, overtime decision to the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night, coach Mike Babcock said that he probably should have played some of the third- and fourth-line guys more.
Two of those guys, Tomas Tatar and Drew Miller, scored in the St. Louis loss.
On Friday, it was Joakim Andersson and Tatar for the second straight game scoring goals for Detroit in a 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. It was Andersson’s first NHL goal.
The Wings were missing Pavel Datsyuk, who has a shoulder bruise, Babcock said, and is listed as day-to-day.
“He’s a catalyst for them,” said Ducks forward Bobby Ryan, who scored the Ducks’ fourth goal. “Him and Zetterberg together give them two deadly options. You take one of them away, especially with all the other injuries, it adds fuel to that and makes it tough for them to get that offense going.”
Without Datsyuk, the Wings relied again on captain Henrik Zetterberg, who played a team-high 22:40. The problem is that for the second straight game, Zetterberg and linemate Damien Brunner finished minus-3.
In the two losses, Zetterberg is scoreless and Brunner has one assist.
Niklas Kronwall, now forced into heavy lifting on the blue line with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, the trade of Brad Stuart and the injury to Brendan Smith, was also minus-3 after a minus-2 against the Blues.
Without Datsyuk, Zetterberg not only is looked to for offense, but also to play against the other team’s top players.
It’s a lot to ask, which brings us back to the youngsters, Tatar, Andersson and now Gustav Nyquist, who was recalled from Grand Rapids Friday.
With the Griffins, Tatar had 10 goals and 20 assists in 44 games, Andersson had 10 goals and 17 assists in 36 games and Nyquist led the team with 17 goals and 28 assists in 47 games.
So it made sense that Babcock reunited the three on the second unit of the power play Friday night. The move paid dividends when Tatar scored.
“We have been playing for 40 games together in Grand Rapids. You can see it on the ice: We understand each other, we know where we are on the ice and it paid off,” Tatar said.
Tatar played with Andersson during the game for regular shifts, but Nyquist was on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Justin Abdelkader.
If it worked well on the power play, why not try the three together on a line throughout the game?
Tatar seemed to be ready for that challenge.
“When somebody’s injured, it’s our time to show up like we can play here,” Tatar said. “We got to step up and replace those guys. I’m trying my best. And I bet whoever is replacing any guy here is trying to help the team.”
For his part, Zetterberg was impressed with what the kids brought to the table.
“You see that they were doing good things down in the farm teams, when they get the call-up they’re ready to go and they play well,” he said.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard, the victim of some senseless turnovers, including a bad break on the Ducks’ second goal when defenseman Ian White’s stick broke and the puck ended up on Matt Beleskey’s stick, benefited from a break when rookie Petr Mrazek started one game in St. Louis last week.
Zetterberg, Brunner and Kronwall might benefit from some of the younger guys playing more as well.
“It was great to see,” Howard said. “We’re going to need that here over the next several games. We’re going to need them to chip in when possible.”
Because Howard responded so well after Mrazek played and said how the days off helped, it might be good to give Mrazek another game, if only to make the other players a little more conscious of protecting the puck.
Perhaps Datsyuk’s shoulder will feel fine Sunday and he’ll be able to go in Minnesota.
But if not, it might help to have guys that have already established that chemistry in Grand Rapids play together and more often and let the rest of the Wings play with teammates they’re used to.