|JERRY S. MENDOZA/AP|
|Todd Bertuzzi made his debut as a Detroit Red Wing last night, skating on the top line in a 2-1 shootout loss to Columbus.|
There's a lot less swagger and a great deal of rust, but Todd Bertuzzi is back.
Not only is he back, but the Detroit Red Wings made a strong statement to the big winger and the hockey world Thursday night in a 2-1 shootout loss to Columbus that Bertuzzi is a big part of their plan for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
He skated on Detroit's top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom, and participated in all the team's power play chances. He played 16:21 and managed one shot on goal and one official hit. He participated in the shootout, making his trademark backhand move and clanking the puck off the crossbar.
For a guy who hadn't played since October following back surgery, he looked fine, if neither imposing nor particularly dangerous and probably a little tentative.
At 32 years of age with a lot of water under the bridge, this is Bertuzzi's best chance to re-establish himself as a top-flight NHL attacker. The Red Wings, unlike the Canucks when Bertuzzi was in Vancouver, are a team that relies on skill, speed and experience to win games, and at his best Bertuzzi has always been more of a finesse player than a muscleman.
Whether he can produce enough to stay with Datsyuk will be interesting to see. Henrik Zetterberg didn't play for the Wings last night, so there was ice time available for Bertuzzi to take in a variety of offensive situations.
He played mostly left wing, but in his best years he was most dangerous going to the net from the right wing. Mike Babcock may or may not make that switch.
What we won't find out until the playoffs begin is whether Bertuzzi has matured enough to keep his temper under control and stay out of the penalty box when the checking gets tighter and the frustrations grow for talented players trying to score.
He wasn't able to do that effectively as a Canuck. He was completely overmatched at the Olympics last year as a member of Team Canada. When it came to making deals before the Feb. 27 deadline, Detroit GM Ken Holland would have preferred Peter Forsberg, Keith Tkachuk or Bill Guerin, and instead ended up hedging his bets by acquiring two question marks in Bertuzzi and Kyle Calder.
On this Detroit team, meanwhile, the pressure is going to be on Datsyuk and Zetterberg to score and lead the offensive charge in the post-season, not Bertuzzi.
If the Wings fail in the playoffs, it won't be Bertuzzi getting the blame this time.
Let's see if a secondary type role fits. Then again, right now the Wings seem determined to play him as a primary player, whether he's ready for the challenge or not.