Detroit Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock’s quest to find the line combinations that allow all the lines to be effective with Jiri Hudler also playing effectively seems to have come to an end.
In Thursday night’s 6-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Joe Louis Arena all four lines played well and Hudler had, by far, his best game of the season.
He returned to the Red Wings this season after spending the 2009-10 season in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. He has yet to scored goal this season, has only four assists and is minus-6.
Hudler began the season the third line with Mike Modano and Dan Cleary, But that entire unit struggled as Detroit’s other three lines were effective in the first few games of the season.
Hudler was benched for the Oct. 30, 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators and was replaced on the line by Justin Abdelkader, who had been out since the preseason with a rib injury.
AnchorThe line came to life with Abdelkader in Hudler’s place. In the five games the Muskegon native and Michigan State alum was a part of the third line, Cleary had three goals and four assists, Modano a goal and three assists and Abdelkader two goals and an assist and he was plus-five.
Hudler was also a healthy scratch the following contest. But he returned to the lineup after sitting out the two games. Babcock’s explanation was Hudler was too god a hockey player to watch from the press box on a regular basis.
So in the following four games, Hudler – a small but slow skilled offensive player with a good shot and above average passing ability – replaced either Drew Miller or Patrick Eaves on the fourth line, which did not work out well for Hudler or the line as a whole.
Now, it’s not like Detroit was struggling – the Red Wings are 10-3-1 – but Babcock knows that teams that have the goal of winning the Stanley Cup need four lines that all play well on a consistent basis.
So he shook things up for Thursday’s contest, with the exception of the top line of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom, which remained intact.
Hudler played on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Johan Franzen. Todd Bertuzzi, who had been on the second line, went to the third line with Cleary and Modano and Abdelkader moved to the fourth line with Darren Helm and Drew Miller.
Eaves was the odd man out.
And things worked out perfectly. Holmstrom and Cleary each scored twice, with Bertuzzi setting up each of Cleary’s goals, Filppula had a goal and an assist with the goal being set up by Hudler and Franzen scored the 100th goal of his NHL career.
All of the Red Wings top nine forwards had at least a point.
“It was good, it was nice to win. Our fourth line was good, too, we had everyone going,” Babcock said.
He was especially happy with Hudler, Filppula and Franzen.
“I thought that line was really good right off the bat. they had good energy and they got some spark,” Babcock said. “It’s always nice for your goal scorers to score some goals, they feel good about themselves.’’
That trio played together a lot together before Hudler left for Russia.
“Everyone knows each other, we’ve been playing together for a long time. Huds was away for a year but we know how he plays,” Franzen said. “Usually when you change it up a little bit, the line combinations, it gives the team a little bit of a spark, everyone goes a little bit harder.’’
All of the forwards were comfortable with the new combinations.
“The timing of the changes came at a good time. Everybody just rolled with the changes, didn’t think much of it. Just go out there and play,” Modano said. “I think everybody here at one time or another has played with everybody. so it’s pretty interchangeable, a luxury that Mike has.’’
Detroit captain defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (2-11-13) and Datsyuk (4-9-13) each had an assist on Thursday night to stretch their point streaks to 10 games.
… Cleary ran his goal streak to four games and his point streak to six (5-4-9).
… Thursday night was a homecoming, of sorts, for Edmonton rookie left wing Taylor Hall, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft. He played junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires and helped them win two straight Memorial Cups, Canada’s junior hockey championship.
… It was recently announced that Olympia Entertainment, which is owned by Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, will no longer manage downtown Detroit’s Masonic Temple.