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Notes: Red Wings' mindset is unwavering

Bertuzzi practices, Athanasiou takes a 'maintenance day' as Detroit prepares for Winnipeg

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner /

DETROIT -- During this turbulent season for the Red Wings, the club has continued to play with resolve and a belief in each other, which is a testament to the character of the Detroit dressing room.

Very rarely have the Red Wings cashed it in when adversity struck.

"It's tough, we're giving it our best, it's definitely not work ethic," forward Adam Erne said. "This is a group that works hard every single game and every single day of practice. Sure it gets frustrating, but we have to turn the page and go to the next (game).

"Everybody in here is a competitor, like I said, this is one of the hardest working groups I've been around. We just can't find a way to put the puck in the net enough times. It's as simple as that."

Most Wings have a similar view to Erne. They believe their preparation and approach to each game has been fine, but since they're going through a collective scoring drought they can't let other aspects of their game slip away.

But don't expect the Wings to suddenly go out one night and become world beaters.

Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill has always said there isn't a magic elixir which will suddenly turn the Wings into consistent winners.

"What will it take? Just a whole bunch of little steps forward and we just got to keep taking those steps," Blashill said. "No matter how many times you get knocked backwards you got to take steps forwards. That's the reality. I'm a big big believer in that.

"These types of things don't change with some big moment. They change by taking steps forwards and constantly in the face of adversity refusing to quit and continuing to find ways to try to get better.

"As a coaching staff, we fight frustration by trying to be solution-based, trying to make sure we walk in here today and we're doing everything we can to make sure we're helping our team be a better team. And the same thing with the players. They're walking in today, making sure they're working to get better and I know our guys worked today."

Blashill also pointed out he is pleased with how the Wings have conducted themselves as the losses keep accumulating.

"I'm really proud of our guys of the work ethic we show on a nightly basis. Are we perfect? No. Have we won? No. Do we make mistakes? Yes. Toronto, it got away from us big-time and that was a poor effort," Blashill said. "But I think we've come back and even in games we've gotten behind we've kept working. I sensed a couple times in the last couple of games starting to dip a little bit and we came out and had great second (periods).

"There's a lot of fight in this room. It's not manifesting itself in wins, it's not manifesting itself in enough positive moments. I get all that. But I think the work ethic on a daily basis in practice has been good. I think the work ethic on a daily basis in games has been good. We control that and we're going to continue to work."

As long as they maintain a positive attitude and good work habits, the players see a brighter path as the season continues to unfold.

"We're headed in the right direction. We've been heading in the right direction the past three or four games. I think our work ethic is there for the most part," defenseman Alex Biega told reporters after Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "Unfortunately, pucks just aren't going in for us right now. We have to recognize that we're a team that, if we're going to win games, we're going to have to win games 3-2 and 2-1 and find ways to score dirty goals around the net. I think we're recognizing that and we've done a better job as of late. I think if we keep playing that way, we're going to have more wins than losses."

ERNE KEEPS PLAYING HIS GAME: Erne is built like a tank at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds and even though being an offensive juggernaut is not part of his game, he's disappointed he hasn't registered a point in 23 games played. But his main contribution to the Wings isn't about making the scoresheet.

"The points haven't been there, but I feel like I'm playing good hockey," Erne said. "As the games are going by, I'm getting more confident, the points aren't there to show that, but it is what it is.

"The style that I play, I don't really need to get points to be of value to the team. Obviously, everybody wants points. It's important but at the same time, I just try to do what I can to help the guys out."

Acquired by the Red Wings from Tampa Bay for a 2020 fourth draft pick on Aug. 14, Erne was considered to be an abrasive player with an offensive upside. He has provided a physical presence and is second on the Wings in hits with 59, yet like many of his teammates, he needs to pick up the offensive pace.

"I don't worry about the points per se," Blashill responded when asked about Erne. "I know points are important, sometimes that's out of your control. I've tried to focus with him to make sure he has an impact when he's not scoring, and the points will follow.

"Two big focuses I've had with him is, one, being physical because he brings a physical element, and two, in the O-zone, just learning how to be strong on the puck but get it up top and get to the net a little bit more and present his stick. Those are just specific areas we're working on.

"Adam has had a great attitude. I think Adam has come to work every day. I think Adam has been great on the bench. When we get down, he doesn't get down at all and just keeps playing. He probably hasn't played as much as he'd like. That's part of production. Hopefully it comes slowly but surely."

One thing for certain is Erne isn't going to try and become something he is not, a prolific goal scorer. He will remain steadfast in bringing the physical play every game.

"I think it's just stick to what you do best. I've got to be of value whether I'm getting points or not. I think in games lately I've been physical, trying to create plays. Obviously, the puck hasn't been going our way, the points haven't been there. I'm just trying to be of value."

BERTUZZI SKATES, ATHANASIOU SITS: There was an anxious moment during Saturday's game against the Penguins when the Wings' leading scorer, Tyler Bertuzzi (10-15-25), was slow to get up after blocking a shot while protecting the empty net late in the third period.

After the game, Blashill didn't have an update on Bertuzzi's status, but at Sunday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center, Bertuzzi was out on the ice with his teammates and it appears he'll be ready to go Tuesday night at Winnipeg.

"(Bertuzzi) practiced today. I'm assuming he's going to play (Tuesday)," Blashill said. "He doesn't feel great, but he was able to practice today and I'm assuming he's going to be all right."

With Bertuzzi back on the ice, another of the Wings forward corps, Andreas Athanasiou, didn't practice in what Blashill thought was just a "maintenance day."

Apparently, Athanasiou had a mishap sometime during Saturday's game versus the Pens.

"We hope it's maintenance, so we'll see," Blashill said. "Right now, I anticipate Athanasiou being ready based on the word I got from Piet Van Zant (Detroit's head athletic therapist). He felt he was going to be ready."

Justin Abdelkader is also expected to be in the lineup on Tuesday against the Jets. Abdelkader has missed the last 12 games with an upper-body injury after blocking a shot on Nov. 10 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

With so many Red Wings on the mend, Blashill was asked if he ever shakes his head and mutters, "why, what's next?"

"I don't. The position we're in we can only worry about what's ahead of us and if things like that happen that's just part of life," he said. I've been on teams with very few injuries and teams with very few but key injuries and teams with lots of injuries. The way the team is built, depth of the team, all those things dictate how much you can absorb and not absorb.

"As a coach who's leading the team you have to make sure you don't worry about anything you can't control, I know that for sure. We can't control injuries at all, outside of asking guys not to sacrifice their bodies, which is not realistic to winning hockey games, whether it's taking a hit to make a play, going hard to the net, blocking a shot. Those are all areas where you sacrifice your body. All we can do is worry about what we control, that's all we can control."

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