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Notes: Bertuzzi excited to represent Wings in All-Star Game

Athanasiou to miss 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury; improved Smith returns from Griffins

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- Whatever plans Tyler Bertuzzi had for the All-Star break have gone out the window.

Instead of basking in the sun in a warm climate, Bertuzzi will be in St. Louis representing the Red Wings in the All-Star Game.

"Probably a little bit surprised," Bertuzzi said after the team's morning skate at the BELFOR Training Center Tuesday. "Obviously excited. It's a big opportunity and it's an honor for me to represent the Red Wings. There's a handful of guys that could've got that call. I'm just happy it was me."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "Obviously excited. It's a big opportunity and it's an honor for me to represent the #RedWings."@tylerbertuzzi | #NHLAllStar pic.twitter.com/GkUXHqMH14

Bertuzzi, 24, leads the team in goals with 14, assists with 16 and points with 30.

Anthony Mantha (12-12-24) and Dylan Larkin (9-15-24) are tied for second in team scoring.

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Larkin was happy for his linemate.

"It's great," Larkin said. "He's been our most consistent offensive player. He leads our team in goals. Well deserved and he's gonna enjoy St. Louis and enjoy the game and the skill competition."

Coach Jeff Blashill has known Bertuzzi for a long time and has seen the evolution from a brash, glove-dropping forward to a skilled player who is difficult to play against.

"I was happy for Tyler," Blashill said. "He's had a good year, obviously, from a statistical standpoint but I also think he's continued to grow as a hockey player. I think last year he took some big steps and he's getting rewarded for that with the All-Star berth. So I think that's great. I think it's a great experience for him. He'll be around some great, great players and that's always a good thing."

Bertuzzi had career bests in goals (21) and assists (26) in 73 games last season, his first full year in the NHL, but appears poised to surpass those numbers.

"This year, I think you see him carrying the puck more," Larkin said. "He's not just hanging at the net. For a guy like me, I've spent more time at the net. His game is evolving. He's not just a net-front guy. He's making plays and making them all over the ice."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Larkin on Bertuzzi heading to the All-Star Game and tonight's game against the Sharks. #SJSvsDET #LGRW pic.twitter.com/GVUQrSs3Pi

Bertuzzi said there's a reason for that.

"That's just with more confidence," Bertuzzi said. "Trying to gain the zone with possession is big. A lot of goalies get the rims and can disrupt our forecheck. If you have the puck carrying it in, you'll get more chances."

Blashill echoed what Bertuzzi said about the main reason for his improvement this year.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "I was happy for Tyler. He's had a good year from a statistical stand point but he's continued to grow as a hockey player."Coach Blashill on Bert's All-Star nod: pic.twitter.com/i5Q0hjnJP5

"I would say confidence, almost to a point that we've talked about making sure he doesn't lose his identity as a hard, skilled, not to get too cute with his skill and still maintains that hard skill where he's hard at the net, he's hard on pucks, he's taken when's given," Blashill said. "But I think the progress has just been in confidence. He's always a guy … he's got better skill than people have given him credit for. I've always felt that when he first came to me in GR. That skill has been able to come out a little more with the confidence that he's grown."

While Bertuzzi is having a breakout season, the team has struggled mightily so he's quite honest about his All-Star selection.

"The best players in the league are there," Bertuzzi said. "Obviously, if they didn't have to pick someone from every team, I know I wouldn't be there. I'm excited to get this opportunity."

Larkin is among those who have a chance to join Bertuzzi in St. Louis as he is one of the candidates for the 2020 NHL All-Star Last Men In.

Tweet from @NHL: The last spot in the Atlantic Division is up to you! Last Men In returns January 1. #NHLAllStar pic.twitter.com/EMYjcQkiiH

Larkin's competition in the Atlantic Division is fierce with Boston's Patrice Bergeron, Buffalo's Rasmus Dahlin, Florida's Aleksander Barkov, Montreal's Max Domi, Ottawa's Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos and Toronto's Mitch Marner.

Larkin was as honest as Bertuzzi about his chances.

"Please don't vote. I'd like the days off more," Larkin said. "There's great players in that group. We have great fans but I'm sure there's guys more deserving to go. I'm fine with that."

ATHANASIOU OUT, FILPPULA COULD GO: What has already been a challenging season for forward Andreas Athanasiou has taken another turn in the wrong direction.

Athanasiou did not participate in the morning skate and Blashill explained why afterward.

"Athanasiou is out," Blashill said. "He'll be out for a little bit. He's got a lower-body injury."

When asked what "a little bit" meant, Blashill said perhaps two or three weeks.

Mantha is already out for four weeks with an upper-body injury so that means two of the team's top five scorers are missing.

"The one thing it does is give us an opportunity to make sure that our work ethic's great," Blashill said. "When you're a little undermanned from a skill standpoint, you better make sure your work ethic's unreal and your commitment level's unreal and your attention to detail's unreal. Sometimes it can make your team focus a little bit more and honestly, when those guys are in, that's how we have to play, too. Sometimes we lose our way that way.

"Is there challenges? Absolutely. Are they really good players that are talented? Absolutely. But that doesn't preclude us from winning a hockey game tonight. We can go with a hockey game tonight by having an unreal work ethic, by making sure our attention to detail is great. I think it was pretty good on the weekend in terms of work ethic. Not the weekend, the last couple games. Our competitiveness was pretty good. I think our attention to detail can still get better."

In better news, Blashill said center Valtteri Filppula, who missed Sunday's game in Tampa with an upper-body injury, could play against the Sharks.

Defenseman Mike Green, who did not take part in the morning skate, is expected to play.

SMITH RETURNS: With Athanasiou out, the Wings recalled forward Givani Smith from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: The #RedWings today recalled right wing Givani Smith from the AHL���s Grand Rapids Griffins.More ��� https://t.co/OSLMz7IQ7S pic.twitter.com/kR3pmEjWqm

Smith, who played in five games with the Wings earlier this season, has already tied his point total from his rookie season with 13 points (4-9-13) but in 22 games for the Griffins as opposed to last season's 64.

"I've heard he's been their best forward on a pretty consistent basis," Blashill said. "He does it his way. He's a big, strong guy that can win puck battles. He's got an NHL body. He can go head to head with other guys physically and win that battle. There's other good players down there for sure. But he's got that NHL body. He competes hard, he goes to the net, he's hard to play against. He's another guy who's probably got a little more skill than he's given credit for. I think he had to learn how to use that skill. He's done a way better job of that. When he first came, he would spend way too much time stick-handling and turning pucks over.

"Now I think he's learned to use his best asset and that's his strength down low and his strength around the net. He'll get a chance to play, get some good opportunity and probably see him on the power play. He's a really, really good net-front guy because he's a big body."

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound power forward had a big learning curve in his first year in the AHL but has blossomed in his second campaign.

"When we talk about development, especially down there, it's always they gotta play, they gotta play, they gotta play," Blashill said. "Well, sometimes they have to sit and realize they have to change their game. He's changed his game. He was, I would say, in love a little bit with stick-handling and doing some of those types of things and not understanding what makes his special. Over time, (Griffins coach) Ben Simon did a great job with him.

"Over time, he's learned what makes him special. What makes him special is putting pucks behind people, forechecking hard, being super physical, holding onto the puck down low, getting it low to high and going to the net. He's really, I think, grown to understand what makes him special."

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