The Red Wings are still known and led by their European-born superstars, but their North American-born "grinders" on the third line are also making their presence felt.
The unit is currently comprised of Drew Miller on the left wing, Darren Helm at center and Justin Abdelkader on the right side, but features Danny Cleary at right wing when injuries don't bump him up to the second line. Regardless, Detroit's third forward group has become much more than just an "energy line," as the trio that played on Thursday night proved in a 4-3 shootout loss to Vancouver -- which ended the Wings' NHL record winning streak at an amazing 23 games.
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"We've kind of been counted on the past few years to create the energy and be hard on the other team's [defense] and I think we've just taken that to the next level," said Miller, a Michigan State alum who's scored a career-high 12 goals and assisted on Abdelkader's goal on Thursday that almost won it in regulation. "I think we're finding that chemistry to play a little more offensively and the puck's going in for us right now, so it's good for the team. You need that secondary scoring. Last night was a big one for our line."
Truth be told, it wasn't the first time their line contributed big this season -- especially during the impressive streak at home. The Wings' third line scored in 13 of the 23 straight home wins for a
total of 16 goals in that span -- and if you were to inspect the streak closely, you'd find their fingerprints all over it. They scored key goals, stifled opposing offenses and simply mucked it up in the corners to win their share of important puck battles.
"[We] bring a lot of different elements to the table," said Abdelkader, who's been using his 6-foot-1, 219-pound frame to become a guy who isn't much fun to play against. "Speed is definitely important and [so is] going north-south, playing good on the forecheck and on the cycle. I think D-men know when the puck goes into the corner that we're coming ... and we finish checks."
It's all part of that "grind" mentality, which is predicated on hard work and not much else.
"That's what we want to be known as, more like a lunch-pail type line ... blue-collar, hard work," said Abdelkader, who until the past couple of seasons was more famous around Michigan for his dramatic game-winning goal with time running out to win the 2007 NCAA National Championship for Michigan State. "There's probably not going to be a lot of fanciness going on, toe-dragging, all that stuff. It's just grind and hard work."
The same description could be used for the general effort it took from the whole team to keep finding ways to extend the streak. Not all of those wins were blowouts -- and as critics like to point out, three happened in shootouts and one in overtime, all nail-biters.
"We've kind of been counted on the past few years to create the energy and be hard on the other team's [defense] and I think we've just taken that to the next level"
-- Red Wings' forward Drew Miller
"I think we take a lot of pride in working and skating and playing a lot in their zone and grinding," said Helm, whose speed can be overpowering and just plain hellish to defend. "We just want to work hard as a line. I don't think the three of us believe that we're top-end skilled guys, so we just work really hard and get opportunities and produce. That's one thing that we pride ourselves on, is working hard."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has taken notice, mostly because he can't help but take notice.
"That group works hard every day in practice, they work hard in the gym, they're helping us win games," Babcock said. "That's what a team is all about. You want everyone to contribute. In the end, we want to be four lines rolling out the door, where everyone can play in all situations. We think we have the capability of doing that. Depth helps you win at the end and [we've] just got to keep building this group."