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Third line is chipping in for Wings

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
EDMONTON, Alberta – Counting on the usual suspects to carry the offensive load is never a bad thing for the Red Wings. But getting offensive production out of the top-six forwards while third and fourth line players are also figuring into the mix makes Detroit an even greater threat.


“It's a long season and even our best players aren't going to have unbelievable nights every night so they need scoring throughout the lineup,” said Drew Miller, who had his first two-goal game of the season in Saturday’s 8-2 win over Los Angeles. “I think that's a big thing for our third and fourth line guys to contribute here and there. For myself, it's nice to get goals and be on a line where guys are getting points. It always looks good when a defensive third or fourth line guy is getting points and helps the team like that. It's a little bonus for guys like us.”

Check out these recent numbers from the current third line: Miller, three goals in five games; Danny Cleary, three goals and five assists in seven games; and Darren Helm, a goal and four assists in five games.
 
“I think Dan Cleary and Helmer have straightened out their games, they're going north-south, they're playing physical, they're on the cycle,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said following Monday’s morning skate at Rexall Place. “Suddenly, Cleary has six points in his last four games, which is real good for him, got to be feeling good about himself. They can play against anybody. … If they continue to grow they'll make us a better team.”

Since mid-November, the Wings are 11-3-0, mainly on the strength of their big guns, particularly Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, who have led the charge, accounting for 18 of the team’s 59 goals. But during that timeframe, the same number of goals has come from third and fourth line contributors, including Tomas Holmstrom, who has five goals since Nov. 19 at Los Angeles.

Part of the success from the third and fourth liners is that they’re crashing the net with greater regularity, which equates to more second-chance opportunities from rebounds in front of the crease. And that same type of contribution will be crucial if the Wings hope to fare well over the next four weeks, playing 11 road tilts in the next 16 games.

“Offensively, it's going better,” Cleary said. “When you start scoring more, everyone measures your game by statistics. Playing with Helmer, we've been playing well. We don't play an east-west game anyway. We've always played a north-south game, up and down, keeping it simple, going to the net. It seems you get more confidence, hang onto the puck a little longer, shooting a little more, getting to the net a little more.”

It also helps that the third line guys are playing with confidence and consistency.

“They're good players. We're doing things well,” said Helm, of his linemates. “Keeping it simple, going forward with the puck, not trying to do too much. All three of us were kind of struggling for a while there … put a few guys who are struggling together and good things start to happen.”

It also helps that all three are speed guys, who aren’t afraid to be physical in the corners and in front of the net.

“We're not top-end players, we understand that,” Helm said. “If all three of us play forward, get the puck ahead, play in their zone, be physical, we do have some skills, so it will come out if we're on the puck enough in their zone.

“I know I wasn't doing the best job previously. I think I'm doing a better job getting the puck in deep, I'm not trying to create something out of nothing. I can get away with it once in a while but I can't assume I'm that type of player. Clears and I are good when the puck's in their zone, we're grinding, being physical and forechecking.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill


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