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Notes: Zadina gets his shot on top line

Move serves to balance out other lines; Mantha getting back up to speed

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- When the Red Wings drafted Filip Zadina sixth overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, they knew he had a great shot.

Now Zadina is getting a shot of another kind -- an opportunity to show what he can do when playing on the team's top line.

During practice Friday at the BELFOR Training Center, Zadina skated with center Dylan Larkin and wing Anthony Mantha.

"It honestly has more to do with just the overall way all the four lines look. It's not about one player," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "It's about trying to find the best four lines in terms of different elements that we can have. Certainly I think Zadina's done a good job and I think of the games he's played, the last game was the lesser of the games. So it's not like he played an unbelievable game and I said I have to get him on the top line.

"It is way more to do with kind of the makeup of all the other lines, specifically the (Valtteri) Filppula line. I wanted a little more grit on that line so Bert (Tyler Bertuzzi) gives that line some grit, some net presence, just some hardness. I think the Bert-Larkin-Mantha line had a real struggle last game so we have an opportunity to mix it up a little bit and we're going to mix it up and we're going to see how it goes."

Filppula centered Bertuzzi and Robby Fabbri in practice.

Zadina has two goals and five assists in 11 games so far this season with Detroit.

"I think he's always been a dangerous player with the puck," Larkin said. "He's got good puck skills, good shot, good hands, good vision. I think this year he's dug in. Not that he didn't last year but he's getting a big opportunity here. You see him on the forecheck, you see him playing hard. He's been a good spark for our team. I'm excited. Even today in practice, we were looking for each other. He's a smart player, so he finds himself in good spots to get passes, and makes it easy on his linemates."

When Mantha returned from a knee injury three games ago, he played on a line with Zadina and Filppula.

But this is Zadina's first chance to play with both Mantha and Larkin.

"We were practicing together for the first time in practice," Zadina said. "I think it has been pretty good. They're awesome players, very skilled players. It's a pleasure for me to play with them. I just want to do my best and play good hockey with them."

Of course, with opportunity also comes responsibility. Playing on the top line often means going against the opponent's best players.

"On the road it's a little bit different at times," Blashill said. "A lot of times actually what they do is get a checking line. Toronto doesn't necessarily have just a pure checking line so a lot of times Larks will get a checking line on the road. It's a little bit different. I try to balance the lines out a little bit more on the road in terms of offense and defense because you have less opportunity to match. Not that you can't but you really screw your own lineup up. Either way it'll be a good test. Zadina's been playing against good players. Whether he's playing with Filppula or playing with Larkin, he's playing against good players.

"The one thing you will get for sure is the top defense pair. That presents super different challenges so he's going to have to be ready for that. I think he is."

Typically Larkin leads Detroit's forwards in ice time with Bertuzzi and Mantha right behind. They average 21:09, 19:31 and 18:37, respectively.

Zadina has averaged 14:24 so this will provide another opportunity for increased ice time.

"It happens if I will deserve it during the games," Zadina said. "I'll do my best to stay with the line and do the best I can."

Since Larkin and Mantha have far more experience than Zadina, the onus will be on them to drive the line in Toronto Saturday.

"What playing with Larkin and Mantha does is when they're on their game, when they're playing at a great level, you don't have to carry a line, you can really be a guy who can kind of just play with them, you know what I mean?" Blashill said. "When they're going at a high level, man, it opens up lots of opportunities for whoever plays with that line. First we need Larks and Mantha to be going at a high level and then if that's the case, it gives Zadina a chance to probably get some real looks. Whether it's real looks to make a play or real looks to shoot the puck in the net, hopefully he does both."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: All the latest before the #RedWings take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow night. #DETvsTOR #LGRW

MANTHA GETTING UP TO SPEED: It is a challenge to get one's game back up to speed after missing time with an injury.

Mantha missed eight games with a knee injury and has one assist in the three games since he returned.

"Coming back off an injury, historically usually you start good, you kind of dip and then you build back up," Blashill said. "He dipped last game. But that's all right, that's part of life. We all dipped last game, to be honest with you. So hopefully he can have a real good game here against Toronto and just build it back up."

Despite the missed time, Mantha is second on the team with 24 points to Bertuzzi's 28. Larkin is third with 22.

"It's tough," Larkin said. "Right when you come back from injury, there's more of that, I would say tentative, just testing out your legs and your hands and seeing where you're at with your body. It's always tough, always in the back of your mind. You see him getting more comfortable. I thought he's been good for us as well. Having everyone back up front at least has been huge."

POWER PLAY HEADING UP: The Wings have had a little more success with the man-advantage of late.

Currently they sit 24th in the league at 16.5 percent.

"Our power play is interesting," Blashill said. "I think we're 24 percent in the last 10 games, like eighth in the league in that stretch, but I don't think it's been very good, and we've talked about it. I don't think the power play has been very good and yet we've happened to score. We need to get better than that for long-term success on the power play.

"If you look at a couple of them the last game, our delay guy had the puck inside the dot lane, he goes to pass it to the kick-out guy and he passes it in his feet. Well, that's execution. I think execution is what's crushed us when our power play hasn't been good, whether it's in-zone and unforced errors or whether it's coming in the zone."

The power play has been much better at home than on the road, 10th at home at 23.4 percent compared to 31st on the road at 7.8 percent.

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