Preseason focus on special teams is paying off
Improved penalty kill, power play ups playoff prospects
— If an NHL team ranks in the top 10 of both special teams — the power play and penalty kill — it stands to have a good chance of making the playoffs.
That’s the rule of thumb, anyway, in the NHL, and generally proves accurate.
The Red Wings weren’t really close last season — and didn’t make the playoffs.
There’s a long way until this season’s playoffs, but the Red Wings are showing significant improvement on both units.
They ranked 6th on the penalty kill (84.6 percent) and 14th on the power play (18.9 percent), a worthy payoff to a lot of work during training camp on both units.
“I said to our group we have to have elite specialty teams and the penalty kill is in that range and we’d like to get the power play into that top-10 range,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “If you have a top-10 penalty kill and power play, you give yourself a better chance to be a playoff team.
“We’re going to keep striving for that.”
The power play simply hasn’t had many opportunities lately.
The Red Wings had none during Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss against Columbus, and more than two power plays only once in the previous five games before Saturday.
“We’ve had no power play hardly,” Blashill said. “When either group gets s chance, they have to have an extraordinarily high level of urgency because we are just not getting very many, so we can’t feel our way into the power play.
“We’ve got to be ready to execute right away.”
Said forward Tomas Tatar: “We saw it last year, you can’t expect to make the playoffs when you lose on the power play and have to be off the charts on 5-on-5. We know how important it is. The PK has been good, so we have to pick it up on the power play.”
The penalty kill has been aggressive and regularly disrupting opposing power plays but forward Luke Glendening, one of the keys on the penalty kill, credits the Red Wings’ goaltending (Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek).
“They’ve been fantastic in those situations,” Glendening said. “We’ve been a little more aggressive, and we’ve put emphasis on face-offs, killing some time off, but the goaltending has been outstanding.
“We’re not where want to be yet, but it’s just a matter of getting better every day and keep moving up.”
The Red Wings have been fortunate with an overall lack of injuries this season but a few nagging ones are beginning to accumulate.
They’ll be without forward Martin Frk for Wednesday’s game against Calgary after Frk left Tuesday’s practice early because of a lower body injury.
Frk is definitely out, and Darren Helm is questionable against the Flames. Justin Abdelkader (cheekbone) is available, after missing Saturday’s game against Columbus.
“More of an accumulation of the last couple of days, and it affected him today and he couldn’t skate great,” said Blashill of Frk’s injury.
Helm hasn’t skated the last two days and is “questionable” to play against the Flames.
“It’s something that happened the other night (against Columbus), and I’m hoping it’s just a bruise,” said Blashill, adding the Red Wings would have more information on Helm later in the day. “Right now, it (Helm’s availability) would be day to day.”
Defenseman Trevor Daley returned to practice Tuesday after not skating the day before.
To replace Frk, and possibly Helm, the Red Wings have Luke Witkowski and David Booth both available, and they could dip into Grand Rapids to get a replacement.
“I have to sit down with my staff and see where we go,” Blashill said. “I came in this morning kind of expecting (both players to skate), I didn’t have any thought they wouldn’t be practicing, and now they aren’t (skating), so now we have to refocus.”
Frk is second on the team with six goals, and Helm has three, so it’s a bit of a hit offensively to a team that’s been searching for goals on a more consistent basis.
Dylan Larkin, left, celebrates a goal earlier this season with Tomas Tatar, said more improvement is needed on the Wings’ power play.