Pre­sea­son fo­cus on special teams is pay­ing off

Im­proved penalty kill, power play ups play­off prospects

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY TED KULFAN The Detroit News ted.kulfan@de­troit­news.com twit­ter.com/tkul­fan

— 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.

Nick Turchiaro/As­so­ci­ated Press

Dy­lan Larkin, left, cel­e­brates a goal ear­lier this sea­son with To­mas Tatar, said more im­prove­ment is needed on the Wings’ power play.

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