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New line sparks offense at Red Wings' training camp

by Christy Hammond / Detroit Red Wings
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – A new line featuring Ville Leino, Valtteri Filppula and Jason Williams made its debut Sunday in an hour-long scrimmage between Team Delvecchio and Team Howe on the first day of Red Wings’ training camp at Centre Ice Arena.

The unit, which could very well be Detroit’s third line at the start of the regular-season next month, combined for a total of four goals and five assists.

The line went head-to-head against Henrik Zetterberg’s line with Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary in the scrimmage. But coach Mike Babcock noted that Zetterberg’s team skated for 40 minutes before the scrimmage whereas the other team started the day with the scrimmage. Each day, Babcock says, a different group will be handicapped by having to skate beforehand.

Leino signed a one-way deal this summer, promoting the Finnish forward to full-time duty in Detroit this season. The left winger kept skating toward the net during the scrimmage and was rewarded with a pair of goals and assists to lead both teams.

“He’s a smart player and makes the right play a lot and skates well, moves the puck well, and definitely handles the puck well,” Williams said. “For me, just try to get open and shoot, shoot, shoot.”

Williams returned to Detroit for a second stint, inking a one-year deal with the Wings in August. He has more in common with his Finnish linemates than you may think as he spent the lockout playing in Finland and even competed against Filppula. His Finnish is a bit rusty, however, so he had to remind Filppula and Leino to speak English during the scrimmage.

“On the bench a few times, they were talking to each other and I told them to slow down, maybe speak a little English just so I can know what they’re thinking a little bit,” Williams said, “but like I say it’s just the first day of training camp and trying to get the cobwebs out.”

Filppula got the crowd buzzing with an impressive wraparound play in the first half that was stopped only by goalie Jimmy Howard’s stick. The Wings will look for Filppula and his linemates to make similar plays and counter the loss of 90 goals from last season due to free agency losses this summer.

Training camp allows newly formed lines to get comfortable with each other’s tendencies and strengths on the ice before the regular-season grind begins. As the players adjust to new linemates, stronger chemistry may create even more offense from the line.

“Hopefully we can sort of just keep it going and get a little feel for where each other is going to be on the ice and make it a little easier for us so we don’t have to think out there and can sort of let our instincts take over,” Williams said.

Williams has not played for the Wings since he was traded in 2007, but his previous six-year stint in Detroit should enable him to quickly fit back into the lineup.

“I think it helps that he’s been here for a lot of years before he got traded and he knows our coaching staff, he knows the system that we’re playing,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “He’s familiar with most of the players as well, so I think that’s going to help him just being back with us again.”

Only time will tell if this offensive output from this line will be the norm, but the three linemates certainly got off to a hot start on the opening day of training camp.

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