The Grind Line: Red Wings Recipe for 2019 Playoffs

What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. Jacob MessingTony Wolak and Rachel Anderson are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

After two years of bottom feeding, the Detroit Red Wings don’t appear any closer to a return to the playoffs, but there could be a series of circumstances that could see the team squeak back into the postseason in 2019.

There’s a handful of interesting storylines in Hockeytown ahead of the 2018-19 campaign, including some incoming youth, a new offensive coach, and a proven goaltender capable of stealing the crease.

Only an 82-game schedule will determine which storylines made a difference in Detroit, if any, but here, The Grind Line personnel discusses some heading into a fresh season.

Jacob Messing: An Opened Offense

During the first three years of coach Jeff Blashill’s tenure, the offense has been held back by an overwhelming reliance on dump and chase hockey. The great Red Wings teams of the past maintained possession, controlled the game, and played in the offensive zone.

The team doesn’t boast the high-end offensive talent of that era, but they are more than capable of gaining the zone and setting up. Instead, since day one under Blashill, far too many shifts have been spent chasing the puck in the defensive zone, only to end with a dump and change, forgoing any offensive zone time.

Blashill needs to play to his strength, which is all too discernibly his forward group. The youth and trajectory of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Bertuzzi is enticing for Red Wings fans. Add in one or two of Filip Zadina, Michael Rasmussen, and Evgeny Svechnikov and the top-six could be as dynamic as it is young in the next few years.

Filip Zadina
Zadina is hungry to prove he slipped in June’s draft and earn a large role with the team this season (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Aside from the obvious offensive prowess, these players combine for enviable size and speed, which would make for easy zone entry, set up and net front distraction. The young guns’ continued offensive growth is the No. 1 aspect that could see them outscore their problems and potentially earn a playoff berth in 2019.

Tony Wolak: Team Speed & ‘The Process’

Far too often last season (and the year before), the Red Wings did not play a complete game. On occasions, they started late, sometimes down by a goal or two. On other nights, Detroit faltered late and gave up the lead and potential points.

If the Red Wings could follow “the process” on most nights, they would do significantly better in the standings and grow as a team. This is entirely possible with the talent they have up front (as Jacob alluded to above) and their team speed.

How many times last year did we see Larkin, Athanasiou, and Darren Helm streak through the neutral zone and have a breakaway? How many times did those players plus others catch opponents sleeping and attack on an odd-man rush? The offensive, quick-strike talent is there – they just need to be more consistent, which starts with committing to the game plan.

Sure, the defense is not good. There’s no denying that. But this can be masked somewhat by relentless forecheck in all zones. It’s hard for opponents to score if they’re constantly under pressure to move the puck – just look at what Vegas was able to accomplish last season with their ‘golden misfits’, a hot goaltender, and 100 percent commitment to the coach’s system. Why can’t Detroit do the same?

Rachel Anderson: Crease Competition

In a perfect world, Detroit’s goaltending, defensive and offensive woes would go away with the snap of a finger. But that’s not the case. In order to be a playoff contending team, there’s much work to be done. No doubt, the Wings have the bones to create a youthful and successful playoff team.

Jonathan Bernier could be a valuable piece in the equation. Jimmy Howard’s consistency has been iffy in recent seasons, so having an experienced and confident backup will give Detroit tending flexibility. Bernier is coming into the organization with a highly competitive mindset and a hope of cracking the starting spot.

“I didn’t want to be in a position where I played 15-20 games, I want to come in and have a chance to play as much as possible,” Bernier told Ansar Khan of MLive. “Obviously, depending on my play, but I just thought it was a great opportunity that me and Jimmy [Howard] can battle for games.”

Jonathan Bernier
Bernier posted a 19-13-3 record with the Colorado Avalanche last year on the heels of a .913 SV% and 2.85 GAA (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bernier’s competitiveness in regards to Howard can help push Howard to either improve his game to keep his net or move aside for one who will challenge the opposition on the ice. Howard, who only has one year remaining, hasn’t been the strongest in recent seasons, so having a little pushback from the would-be backup may encourage him to step it up.

Along with defensive and offensive struggles—the Wings have hoards of young talent coming down the line—the goaltending prospects are still a ways away from being ready. These past playoffs proved that incredibly talented goaltending was critical – not just an aggressive forecheck. In order to meet the demands of a quick and close style of play, the Wings’ goaltending needs to shape up – Bernier may just be the man to spur that one.