“I’ve talked about this lots. We want to look after each other,” Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill said in the aftermath of a wild 7-6 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning that saw captain Dylan Larkin get ejected from the game (and ultimately suspended by the NHL for one game) because of a punch he threw at Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph. “Obviously there was a lot of guys that were willing to stick up for Dylan on the ice and on the bench. I think we’re a close-knit group.”
The moment lasted no more than 20 seconds. Joseph cross checked Larkin directly on the 71 on the back of Larkin’s sweater, sending the Red Wings’ top center head first into the boards not even six months after his 2020-21 season was cut short due to a cross check to the back of his neck by Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn. Back in April, Larkin went down, eventually made his way back to the bench, and Benn did not receive so much as a shove from Larkin’s teammates in retaliation on behalf of their captain.
Things were vastly different when Joseph put a dangerous hit on Larkin.
Larkin stood up for himself, throwing a punch that understandably led to a suspension. Mere seconds afterwards, as Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta came rushing into the scene, Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi was there, jumping on the Tampa Bay defender to ensure Larkin wouldn’t have to deal with any additional Lightning players.
The following game, a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, Bertuzzi seemingly listened to the song “Headstrong” by Trapt before the game because he was ready to take on anyone. One particular image/video went somewhat viral on social media as Bertuzzi and Robby Fabbri were seen sharing some words with players over on the Canucks’ bench:
Now to be fair to the rest of the team, the “Detroit vs. everyone” mentality we have seen this team take on over the first two games of this season cannot be accomplished by one single player. Every player has to buy in, but having a player like Bertuzzi on the bench and on the ice sure seems to have had an instant affect on the way this season’s Red Wings are behaving.
Bertuzzi Was Gone Most of Last Season
You likely know the drill here. After collecting five goals and seven points through the first nine games of the 2020-21 season, Bertuzzi went down with what was eventually revealed to be a back injury that required surgery. His absence was felt almost immediately as Larkin no longer had his most frequent linemate (and very good friend) on his wing, which eventually played a role in Larkin’s worst statistical season since his second in the league. Not only that, but the team missed Bertuzzi’s production, as he had a career points per-game rate of .60 prior to this season. For a team that averaged just 2.27 goals per-game last season, Bertuzzi’s production could have led to a few more wins.
There is also the fact that Bertuzzi has always been known for the scrappy game he plays. He isn’t a pure enforcer like Bob Probert was, but he does not back down and he is keen on getting inside his opponents’ heads. Like many other players around the league, he’s the type of player that you hate to play against, but you love having on your team.
“Tyler’s very popular in our room,” Larkin said with a smile as training camp began. “He’s a very big part of our locker room.”
When players like that are missing from the lineup, the entire team’s complexion changes. The Red Wings made some progress last season, but there’s no doubt that they would have looked even better had No. 59 been able to suit up for more than the first nine games.
Bertuzzi Gets Rewarded
With Bertuzzi back in the lineup to start the 2021-22 season, it was nice to see him display not just his trademark snarl, but also the skill that makes him such an effective top six forward. The highlight of opening night came just 18 seconds into the second period when defenseman Nick Leddy found Bertuzzi open at center ice, which led to this absolute beauty of a goal:
By the way, that’s former Norris Trophy-winner Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev that Bertuzzi turns into moving pylons. While this type of thing is hardly the norm for the 26-year-old forward, it does shine a spotlight on the fact that he brings more than just abrasiveness to his team. After all, this is a forward who was on pace for 24 goals and 55 points during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.
Bertuzzi & Larkin Set the Tone
While it’s likely too soon to definitively say, this season’s Red Wings team seems chippy and ready to push back on anybody who tries to push them around.
“I think you’ve seen it pretty early that we’re pretty tight in the room,” newly-named alternate captain Marc Staal said. “You do something to one of us, it affects all of us and we’re all going to jump in and stick up for each other. It was good to see tonight, and we’ll continue to play that way.”
Leading the way in that regard to start the season has been Larkin and Bertuzzi. While the former was unable to suit up for the game against the Canucks, the latter made sure to antagonize the boys from Vancouver at every opportunity. This “screw you” attitude is infectious, and it should be noted that 19-year-old rookie Lucas Raymond joined Bertuzzi and Fabbri in heckling the Canucks’ bench. In the game against the Lightning, 20-year-old rookie Moritz Seider was seen stealing the puck from Hedman after the whistle before exchanging pleasantries with both Hedman and Sergachev.
Would the team carry this kind of attitude without Bertuzzi in the lineup? We can’t know for sure until we see the team in that exact scenario, but anybody who has ever been on a team with a player like “Bert” will tell you that they feel a lot more confident in themselves with a guy him on their side. If there’s one word that describes the Red Wings’ first two games this season, “confident” probably ranks pretty high up there.
Is it too soon to call that the “Bertuzzi Effect”?
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.