DETROIT – There was a time this season when coach Mike Babcock didn’t exactly know what to do with Cory Emmerton.
With the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, coach Mike Babcock thought, “There's no room for him."
The Red Wings’ roster was saturated with centermen, making Emmerton perhaps expendable.
But injuries forced Babcock to think differently about his forward line combinations as well as the defensive pairings, which presented an opportunity to the second-year center.
It’s not that Emmerton has been burning up the score sheet, but he has been steady, as was the case in Thursday’s 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Joe Louis Arena.
“Well, he's played every game and gotten more and more ice time and played 15 minutes (against Chicago),” Babcock said. “Just shows you what injuries do, they provide opportunity. When you get that opportunity you got to grab it.”
Emmerton made the most of his chances Thursday, particularly a second-period sequence when Pavel Datsyuk came off after breaking his stick. Emmerton came off the bench on the change and slipped undetected into the slot.
“I kind of got lost in the change and came in a little bit higher than they expected,” said Emmerton, who ripped a slap shot past Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk. “It’s nice to get that little bit of open space. You don’t get it too often.”
Emmerton’s linemate Drew Miller credit his center with making a heads up play that put the Wings up 2-0 at 12:19 of the middle frame.
“When you come off the bench you go down the middle and try to get open for the guys cycling,” Miller said. “I had the chance to find him in the spot there and he made a nice shot.”
Last season Emmerton averaged eight minutes of ice-time. This season, he’s over the 10-minute mark and gaining confidence in himself and among his teammates with every game.
Emmerton’s line provided high-energy all night, including Jordin Tootoo, who engaged Oilers enforcer Mike Brown in a fight. Brown, the former University of Michigan standout, was was acquired from Toronto this week.
A shift or two prior to scoring his first goal in 14 games, Emmerton’s hustle on the forecheck was on display in the Oilers’ zone. During the shift, he battled defenseman Jeff Petry for the puck behind the Edmonton net, got off two shots and for good measure, blasted defenseman Ladislav Smid into the end boards with a good, clean body check.
“All season we’ve talked, Millsy and Toots, about playing some pretty good hockey and created some energy,” Emmerton said. “We’ve had a lot of Grade A scoring chances and it’s one of those things where you’ve got to get one and hopefully you start to get a few. … Tonight we got one and hopefully we can continue to roll with that.”
At the start of the season, secondary scoring was a concern for the Wings. But now, the current group of bottom six forwards has accounted for 13 goals since mid-February.
“Secondary scoring is huge,” Miller said. “You count on it in the playoffs, you count on it when the big guys aren’t having their best night or they’re not getting the goals. So everyone has to chip in here and there. I think the way we started the season, I think it was 10 games no one in the bottom six had a point … But we take pride in our role and we want to chip in.”
THREE STARS: 3, Brendan Smith, DET (+1, 2 SOG); 2, Jimmy Howard, DET (22 saves, W); 1, Cory Emmerton, DET (1 goal).
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