DETROIT – Pavel Datsyuk has done it before, taking replaceable fourth liners and making them into valuable additions to the Red Wings’ top scoring line.
His latest reclamation project is Luke Glendening, the gritty fourth-line center who has arguably been the team’s most trustworthy penalty killer this season.
“Pav wanted someone to work,” coach Mike Babcock said when asked about Glendening’s ascent. “He’s the guy who said ‘Put Glennie with me.’ So I put Glennie with him.”
Glendening is the latest bottom-six forward to join Datsyuk on the Wings’ top line, following Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, amongst others, who in the past worked as reliable puck retrievers for the Magic Man.
Glendening will skate opposite another 20-plus goal scorer in Tomas Tatar when the Red Wings host the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight at Joe Louis Arena. It will be the third straight game for Glendening on Datsyuk’s line since Babcock made the switch last weekend.
“Obviously, it’s fun to be able to play with guys like that,” Glendening said. “They’re a little out of my league in skills but it’s been fun to be on a line with them and just try to get pucks for them and create havoc.”
So far, in two games on Datsyuk’s line, Glendening – who leads the team in short-handed ice time (3:21) per game – has a goal and fired a career-high five shots on goal in the Wings’ 5-3 loss at Boston on Sunday.
“I wish I would have gotten a magical set of hands when I started playing with those guys, but unfortunately that hasn’t happened,” he said. “I’m just trying to do the little things, keep pucks in and just give them the opportunity to have chances.”
Meanwhile, Abdelkader continues to do quite well for himself on the second line with captain Henrik Zetterberg and newcomer Erik Cole. Abdelkader has four goals and five points in the past five games.
Goal scorers like Datsyuk and Zetterberg prefer to play alongside hard-nosed wingers who aren’t afraid to go into greasy areas of the ice to fetch pucks, allowing forward lines to maintain pressure in the offensive zone.
“Why do they want those guys? Why do they want Helm and Abdelkader?” Babcock asked rhetorically. “Because they work and they get them pucks back and they create turnovers, they compete every night. You can count on them. Sometimes we get confused on what skill is, and we think we should have all dipsy-doodlers on one line. If you ask the guys themselves that’s not what they want.”
Regardless of how long Glendening’s endeavor on the top line may be, Babcock doesn’t want the 25-year-old to lose focus on his true purpose and meaning to this team.
“He’s our fourth-line center. Let’s not get confused on what he is. He’s a penalty-killer and fourth-line center,” Babcock said. “But Darren Helm was our fourth-line center. … Then he was, I thought, the best third-line center in the league. Abby was on the fourth line and then he was a guy who people thought didn’t have enough skill to play with Pav. But he has enough skill to play with Z and suddenly looks like he might score 20 goals. It’s called growth and development. They’re kids when they arrive. They’ve got to get better. So if you continue to develop them and they’re hard-working people they’re gonna get better.”
He doesn’t possess a scoring acumen, but Glendening has found the back of the net nine times, which is a far better rate from a season ago when he waited 51 games to score his first NHL goal. But his gritty style that can lend to more scoring chances, and ultimately more offensive production, in the final 17 games of the regular season.
“I remember last year at this time everyone was asking me if I was ever going to score a goal in the NHL and I was wondering the same thing,” he said. “It’s definitely been nice to put a few in but we want to get back to playing our kind of hockey and winning some games again.”
Since returning from a six-game road trip against Western Conference teams, the Red Wings have been fighting the blahs, as Babcock put it earlier this week. Detroit is 2-2-0 and has been outscored 3-1 and out-shot 30-19 in the past two first periods.
Glendening is Babcock’s kind of player, a defensive stalwart who possess some offensive upside, and is good in the face-off circle, too. He’s won 55 percent of his face-offs taken this season, which is the team’s best efficiency rate.
“Glennie was a guy who came to our team and walked on and has made us better every day because he’s an ultra-competitive person and drags other people in to battle,” Babcock said. “Anybody that works that hard and competes that hard every day and trains that hard and loves it that much is gonna find a way to improve his skill set that he’s gonna eventually score enough to be an important part of your team.”