Take one look at Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi and it’s easy to see why he has been one of the most intimidating forces in the National Hockey League for the better part of a decade.
With his scruffy beard, missing teeth and a 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame, Bertuzzi looks more like a mixed martial arts fighter than a hockey player with a splendid mix of grit and finesse.
And while his numbers haven’t been eye-popping the past few seasons, Bertuzzi showed the style of play that once made him a premier power forward in the NHL during a pair of games this weekend against the Boston Bruins.
“I just seemed to be in the right spots,” Bertuzzi said after Sunday’s game. “I’m skating better. I feel I got my legs back. I wasn’t playing well there for a little while. It’s nice to finally get some speed, hold onto the puck and make plays.”
Bertuzzi netted two goals in each game, leading the Red Wings to a 6-1 victory on Friday night in Boston and a 4-2 win Sunday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena.
“When he’s skating, when he’s competing, when he’s being strong on the puck, it’s real hard to get it off him,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told the media after Sunday’s game. “Sometimes when he gets carried away making skill plays versus just being a big man, he’s not as good. When he’s playing like he is right now, he’s fantastic.”
But things haven’t always been this smooth over the past few seasons. Since the 2005-06 season, Bertuzzi has played for five teams while struggling to find the right fit. Injuries limited the winger to just 15 games in 2006-07, 68 in 2007-08 and 66 in 2008-09.
In his first stint with the Red Wings in 2006-07, Bertuzzi played just eight games, tallying two goals and four points. He then signed a contract with the Anaheim Ducks in the offseason. Chronic back problems derailed Bertuzzi’s next two seasons with Anaheim and Calgary, but he still managed respectable point totals, collecting 40 and 44 in those seasons.
But anyone’s back would be sore if they were asked to carry the load for some of the most anemic offenses in the League. Bertuzzi’s 2007-08 club, the Anaheim Ducks, finished 28th in goals per game that season.
Detroit gave him another chance before last year with a one-year deal, and Bertuzzi responded with 18 goals and 44 points while playing all 82 games. He was rewarded with a new two-year pact in June.
This season, Bertuzzi started strong but was very inconsistent.
“I’ve always been kind of a streaky scorer,” Bertuzzi said. “For some reason the past handful of years, it goes the other way a little longer than I like.”
But while playing on a line with Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg lately, Bertuzzi has been playing a more north-south style instead of trying to make fancy plays. He’s been assertive while taking the puck to the net and creating chances.
Bertuzzi almost added an assist to his pair of goals Sunday, but the play was blown dead before Franzen shot the puck in the net. He wrapped the puck around the goal where Franzen was waiting to tap it in. Babcock loved the effort and thought the play typified the type of player Bertuzzi is still capable of being.
“I thought that was a great play and showed the kind of dominance they (Bertuzzi and Franzen) can have down low if they’re skating and being big,” Babcock said. “I still challenge (Franzen) and Bert on a regular basis to be more physical with the puck down low in the zone and to be involved that way. The more they’re involved that way, the better we are.”