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Articles from practice: Wings ‘take an optional’; on the Flyers, Sproul, Sheahan and ‘going north’

Updated 2x at 4:10 PM: The Red Wings took part in an off-ice workout ahead of tomorrow's game against the Philadelphia Flyers (5 PM EST on FSD/CSN Philly/97.1 FM; Philly is currently tied 1-1 with Dallas in a Saturday matinee game), and after practice, MLive's Ansar Khan posted three videos:

The first involves Tomas Tatar "discussing the need to play a north-south game" alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Anthony Mantha...

The second involves Thomas Vanek discussing his chemistry with Sheahan and Nyquist, and addressing the steps the Wings have taken "in the right direction" despite their loss to Columbus...

And the third video includes coach Jeff Blashill speaking with the assembled media regarding the Flyers:

In the article department, the Free Press's Helene St. James addressed Ryan Sproul's inability to crack the lineup...

He ranks fifth with a 2.1 shots-per-game average, doing so even as he has only made 14 appearances. He has one goal and four assists in that span, still making him third in defensive scoring behind Danny DeKeyser (six points) and Mike Green (16 points), both of whom have played twice as many games.

So why has Sproul been benched the past three games? He had a bad outing last weekend at Pittsburgh, where he was on the ice for three of the four goals the Penguins scored in the third period. Typical growing pains for a 23-year-old rookie.

“When Sproulie is playing great, he is assertive,” coach Jeff Blashill said Saturday. “When he is not playing great, he is not assertive. It’s as simple as that. When he is in there, he has gone in and played very well early in both two stints he has played, and then as the games have went along, he’s gotten a little less assertive. Him and I have talked about that. You cannot play this game afraid to make a mistake. You have to play the game smart, but also on your toes, especially him. When he skates, he can really defend well. When he skates, he can break the puck out well. When he stops moving his feet, defending gets harder and you spend way more in your end.”

Blashill said lineup decisions will be made Sunday. Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson missed the last game because of back spasms, but Alexey Marchenko is back after an injury layoff, and call-up Brian Lashoff is also around. Sproul does give the Wings the possibility of having every defense pair consist of a left-handed and right-handed shot, and he gives them an option on power plays.

“The number one thing in this game today is to get the puck out of your end,” Blashill said. “If he can help us get the puck out of our end, then that becomes a real positive for him to be in the lineup. The last couple of games he wasn't that, and so that’s why he came out of the lineup.”

The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness also took note of Sproul's pluses and minuses...

Sproul, who Blashill likes for his willingness to shoot the puck, has a goal and four assists in 14 games. He however has plus/minus rating of minus-7.

(To me, that's the issue--Sproul is great offensively and so-so defensively)

Pleiness also discussed Riley Sheahan's struggles with Thomas Vanek:

Riley Sheahan has played all 28 games this season and has yet to score a goal.

“I’ve been through stretches, too,” said his current linemate Thomas Vanek. “I’m not going through a great goal-scoring stretch either right now. I’m getting chances, which is good. That’s what I told him. Getting chances is good. Not scoring is frustrating but it’s better getting chances than no chances.

Sheahan scored a career-high 14 goals last season.

“Shea played great (Friday) night and probably deserved a lot better than zero at the end of the night,” Vanek said. “I told him to keep going. It will come if he plays that way.”

Sheahan has five assists this year, but has a team-worst minus-11 rating. Vanek has registered a point in four straight games and in five of the last six (one goal, four assists).

“For him it’s just about getting a bounce and then getting one and then hopefully you keep going,” Vanek said. “Again he’s doing a good job at it. He’s playing well at both ends. It will come for him.”

I have no qualms with Sheahan, but I'd argue that he's on his last legs with the Wings, despite his status as a young player who's 6'2" and 210+ pounds who can go to the net and make superb lateral passes...He's just been so passive this season that it's hard to watch him struggle.

Focusing on the team as a collective, DetroitRedWings.com's Dana Wakiji spoke with Tatar, Vanek and Blashill about the need to play more "north-south hockey":

Despite the 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday night, the Red Wings believe there were things that they did well. They did not take a penalty, other than Steve Ott's fighting major, they won 62 percent of their face-offs and they had 33 shots on goal.

"I thought in the first and third there were times where we could have gone north and decided to not," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Saturday. "We have to continue to harp upon the fact that we have to continue to be a team that plays up the ice as fast as we can. We're becoming a better O-zone team so if we get pucks behind people and play in the other team's end, we have a better chance to produce more offense.

"And the other thing I think we have to continue to do is to be more determined to get to the net and more determined to put pucks to the net. I still think we pass up shots to try make plays and we just have to understand that it's going to be lost of shots, lots of shots, lots of tips around the net and lots of chaos around the net."

The Red Wings fired 33 shots ON Bobrovsky last night and 33 wide/blocked, so yes, they need to get more shots directly on the net...

"You can't win many games with one [goal]," Vanek said. "(Sergei) Bobrovsky stole the game for them, in my opinion, just like Jimmy and Petr have stolen games for us. That's going to happen and hopefully it evens out at the end of the year."

Tatar, who had three shots, agreed with Vanek that it was Bobrovsky that made the difference. "We did a pretty good job, unfortunately we get bad bounce, they went in and Bob was playing really well for them," Tatar said. "We couldn't score. I mean, just the way sometimes how the game goes. But in the long run, I feel like if we play this kind of game, we will able to win these games. We just have to keep climbing and play better and every day getting better."

Screening the goaltender would help...

Tatar and his line with Henrik Zetterberg and Anthony Mantha have been together for a while and they have been making that effort to move north-south and get to the net.

"(Mantha's) playing real well, he's strong on the puck, that's what we need," Tatar said. "He's a bigger guy, he can hold onto it. I feel like the chemistry is there. We just have to score more. I feel like me, Mantha and Z, we all have a chance, we can be more productive, that's for sure. We can create some bigger chances. We just have to find a way to score and help the team this way, too."

Wakiji continues, giving a "pre-scout" of the Flyers and discussing the fact that tomorrow's lineup will remain uncertain until game time.

 

Update: The Free Press's Helene St. James posted a video of Vanek and Blashill speaking with the media...

And here's the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa's notebook:

The return of Thomas Vanek from injury and Anthony Mantha’s performance since his recall from Grand Rapids have contributed to the difference. Frans Nielsen has started to heat up.

“If we can get pucks up and behind people and play in the other team’s end we’re going to have a better chance to produce offense,” Blashill said. “And the other things I think we have to continue to do is just be more determined to get to the net, and more determined to put puck in the net. I still think we pass up shots to try to make plays and I think we need to understand it’s going to be lots of shots, lots of shot tips around the net and lots of chaos around the net.”

Tomas Tatar, who is skating with Mantha and Henrik Zetterberg on the top line, said the north-south game requires keeping it clean and remaining assertive.

“We can’t turn the pucks over,” Tatar said. “That’s the thing that’s going to kill you if you play the north-south game. You have to get the puck deep and have a good forecheck. Exit the zone real fast, or as easy as you can."

Another things is having a forceful presence in the middle and Mantha is supplying some of that, at times, for the first line. Blashill clearly hopes that the goal-starved Riley Sheahan, who has yet to tally this season but who came close a few times Friday, will provide it on the line with Thomas Vanek and Gus Nyquist.

“I think part of it is a middle drive,” Tatar said. “You need a good middle drive and a net front presence for sure. I feel like me, ‘Mo’ and ‘Z.,’ all have a chance we can be more productive,” he said, using nicknames for Mantha and Zetterberg. “That’s for sure.”

 

Update #2: Here's MLive's Ansar Khan's notebook:

The Flyers (16-10-3) had won seven in a row heading into a Saturday afternoon game against Dallas. The Red Wings and Flyers split a pair of games in Philadelphia six days apart early last month - the Flyers won 4-3 in overtime on Nov. 2 and the Red Wings prevailed 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 8, snapping a 12-game losing streak in Philly that dated back to 1997.

Anthony Mantha can help the Red Wings play north and get to the net. He logged a career-high 19:42 in the 4-1 loss to the Blue Jackets and banged a couple of shots off the post, including one on a breakaway.

"Mantha does a good job reading opportunities to get behind the other team and he has good speed and size combo to do that," Blashill said. "I thought that was a better game for Mantha compared to the previous two. The previous two I thought he was guilty of trying to play slow. Him and everybody else on the team have to be more determined at the other team's net."

Thomas Vanek is another net-front player who isn't shy about shooting.

"He's a very smart offensive player and knows where to find the little pockets of openings and he knows how to present his stick to just deflect the puck to the net," Blashill said. "He understands the limited about of space and time you have, so I think there are things our young guys can learn, especially a guy like Anthony can learn from Thomas, how to play around the net, how to be real smart about just getting pucks around the cage and creating chaos."

...

Four games remain on this homestand. The Red Wings are 2-7-2 in their past 11 at JLA and 6-7-2 for the season.

"We've got to establish a little better home ice here," Vanek said. "We're struggling on home ice. We've just got to get some momentum early, get the fans behind us and keep that momentum going."

Blashill provided no injury updates or lineup information, saying decisions will be made Sunday. That includes the status of defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who missed Friday's game due to back spasms, and the starting goaltender. Jimmy Howard might start, after Petr Mrazek was pulled in the second period Friday.

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.