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Articles from practice, late version: Wings concerned with power play; the schedule is weird, man

The Detroit Red Wings held a brief practice prior to the Toast of Hockeytown on Thursday, and before the Wings hob-knobed with their fans, the Wings' beat writers report that the team attempted to address its struggling power play.

MLive's Ansar Khan wrote an article about the Wings' power play woes...

The power play has converted only 2-of-33 opportunities the past 10 games (6.1 percent). The penalty kill has allowed nine goals in 28 shorthanded opportunities over 12 games. (67.9 percent success rate).

"I said in the beginning of the year we need elite specialty teams and I thought for a portion of the year we had that and right now we don't," coach Jeff Blashill said. "If we want to win games before the All-Star break, we need elite specialty teams."

The Red Wings have four games before the break, starting Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes at Little Caesars Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit).

Then the Wings play the Devils (away), Flyers (at Little Caesars Arena) and Blackhawks (at LCA)--and they play those 3 games over the course of only 4 nights--so the Red Wings are going to have to make some adjustments in a hurry.

Khan reports that Blashill plans on making some changes to the power play units, but more switching players from unit to unit as opposed to fielding new power play personnel:

Blashill cited lack of clean entries as the main issue with the power play. He'll likely shift a player from one unit to the other. The most likely scenario will see Andreas Athanasiou, because of his speed, join the first unit with Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist, Anthony Mantha (net front) and Niklas Kronwall.

"Could be," Blashill said. "You got (Dylan) Larkin and AA on the same unit, and they're both real good entry guys with speed. We hadn't needed it until recently, but that's something we're going to look at going into tomorrow's practice."

This would result in a second unit of Larkin, Tomas Tatar, Tyler Bertuzzi (net front), Mike Green and Martin Frk.

Khan continues, and the Free Press's Helene St. James also addressed the issue in her Thursday practice report:

The Wings look to Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes as a chance to restore efficiency with the man advantage after a rough stretch. After operating at 22.6 percent on power plays through Dec. 20, the power play has run at 6.1 percent the past 10 games (2-for-33, 29th in NHL). It was 1-for-7 Saturday at Pittsburgh.

“It hasn’t been good at all, and in the last little bit, it’s taken away,” Blashill said after Thursday’s practice. “We went through a stretch where, through December it wasn’t great, and into January, but I also thought it looked good, it was getting chances. It’s not good enough right now. Our entries have gone a little dry, that’s an area for certain that we have to work on. We might have to make some tweaks in personnel to help with entries, just shifting guys from one unit to the other to maybe give ourselves a little bit more speed on each unit, and then we have to get back to getting pucks into the cage area and scoring some ugly goals. We’ve gotten a little bit on the outside of the dots too much. If I had to go in order, it would be entries, it would be unforced errors, and then the mentality of attacking the net.”

As you probably know by now, the Red Wings' power play zone entries are terrible, but that's a structural issue as much as a tactical one. The Red Wings have spent the past ten years trying to launch one player into the offensive zone via a drop pass from 4 stationary players at center ice.

It used to work, but the "Datsyuk drop" was mostly powered by Pavel Datsyuk, so now it's gotten kind of comical watching one of the defensemen drop the puck to a center forward while everybody else stands up at the blueline, including the opposition's penalty-killers. You can't try and catapult one or two players into the offensive zone, and regrettably, most of the Wings' "zone entries" consist of set plays among stationary players.

That's true of the plays when the Wings actually set up in the offensive zone as well, so movement of the skating variety would be a wonderful development all the way around.

The Wings seem to understand why they're struggling, but talking about what's wrong and then fixing it are two different things:

Players bemoaned a lack of cohesiveness on recent power plays.

“We have to help each other more on the breakout and be more compact,” Tatar said. “That’s how we can be better for sure because I feel like now, everybody is on different page. Right now our biggest problem is the breakout — we have a really big problem to get to the zone. And in the zone, when things aren’t going good on the power play, you have to overshoot for sure.”

The Wings have two power play goals since Dec. 23.

The Red Wings are concerned about their penalty-killing as well. Part of the Wings' problem involves the absences of Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Luke Glendening, as St. James noted...

The penalty kill hasn’t looked sharp since Dec. 23 either, operating at 75 percent (25th in NHL), in part because they are missing key PK personnel. Luke Glendening was lost to injury Dec. 20; he averaged 2:40 minutes per game killing penalties, third highest on the team and tops among forwards. Darren Helm (2 minutes shorthanded per game average) and Abdelkader (1:07) have missed the past two games. All three are out at least through Saturday.

So it's about "getting one's reps in," as the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan noted, but Andreas Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin have been relatively regular PK players over the course of the past two months:

With Justin Abdelkader (lower body), Luke Glendening (hand) and Darren Helm (lower body) all not in the lineup, the penalty kill is in a state of flux. Getting players like Athanasiou, Bertuzzi, David Booth and Dominic Turgeon work in practice will help their familiarity heading into games.

“They haven’t had a lot of reps,” Blashill said. “They’re learning on the fly. We have to get some reps with those guys, we’ll get it in practice, and as we keep going they’ll have to keep finding the little nuances of being better.”

 

The other topic of the day among the players and coach involved January's weird, weird schedule. Detroit played 3 games in 6 nights prior to its Bye Week, they played 3 games in 4 nights, and now are in the midst of a 3-day break ahead of a slate of 4 games in 6 nights.

After the 4-in-6 stretch, they get a 5-day break for the All-Star Game, and then they're right back to 3-in-4 to end January and begin February.

The Wings spoke with the Detroit News's Kulfan about the weird schedule...

The Red Wings played Tuesday and don’t play again until Saturday (hosting Carolina), which begins a span of four games in six days before the All-Star break (and five days before another game).

"It’s weird how that works,” Nyquist said. “Another break coming up, we had the three games in four days. Every team goes through it, but it is a little weird.”

Blashill gave the team Wednesday off, after the three games in four days, and Thursday had a spirited, physical practice.

“You get to practice harder and gives you a chance to work on some battle stuff,” Blashill said.

In a perfect world, Blashill would rather do away with the bye week and tack on those off days before, or after, the All-Star break.

“The players like it,” Blashill said. “I’ve got nothing to do with it. I coach the schedule I’m given. I’m not a big fan of the bye week but I’m also not a player and that was negotiated in as part of the agreement to go 3-on-3 (format in the All-Star Game). I don’t think much about it.”

And CBS Detroit's Will Burtchfield took note of Blashill's remarks regarding the Bye Week:

The NHL compressed this year’s byes within a two-week window to reduce the number of uneven matchups. But some coaches still aren’t a fan of the break in the schedule.

“Nope,” said Jeff Blashill on Thursday, before the reporter could finish asking his question. “I think the players like it. I’ve got nothing to do with. I coach the schedule I’m given.”

Most gripes surrounding the bye week stem from the fact that it increases the number of back-to-backs and three-games-in-four-nights stretches throughout the schedule. Some coaches, such as Toronto’s Mike Babcock, believe that increases injury risk. It certainly leads to tired players and watered-down lineups.

Blashill feels there are “other avenues” toward getting teams more rest.

“Maybe extend the All-Star break on both sides of it. Half the teams on one side, half the teams on the other,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of the bye week, but I’m also not a player. That was negotiated in as part of the agreement to go to three-on-three, so I don’t really think a whole bunch about it.”

As Burtchfield notes, the Red Wings will be playing a Carolina Hurricanes team fresh off its Bye Week on Saturday, but they won't underestimate the Canes...

“It depends,” Blashill said. “I’ll you the biggest thing: I’m worried about the Red Wings. I’m not really worried about Carolina. They’re usually a hard-working team, so I expect them to come out and play hard. Last year we were in that boat and we won our game off the bye week.”

And then it's rough sledding again, as Blashill told DetroitRedWings.com's Dana Wakiji:

"You're kind of in a weird cycle here between Christmas and the bye week and then you got the All-Star game and then these games," Blashill said. "But this is a little different. We had the day off, which came at a good time because we played three in four, and you come off a break and go hard and then get a little bit of a breather.

"It gives us a couple days to practice and you can practice harder today (Thursday) than when you're not playing the next day, so it gave us a chance to work on some battle stuff.

"It's definitely out of your rhythm a little bit. The one thing I'll remind them of tomorrow (Friday) is we got four games until another break, so we go to really buckle down and focus in on those four games."

Wakiji also took note of the Red Wings' personnel absences during Thursday's practice...

Captain Henrik Zetterberg and forward Tyler Bertuzzi, were given Thursday off and according to Blashill it is not a cause for alarm.

"I think Tyler, it's a maintenance thing," Blashill said. "I expected him to practice tomorrow and play on Saturday."

He said essentially the same thing about Zetterberg. Throughout this season Zetterberg has been given a few 'maintenance days' to allow his 37-year-old body to recuperate.

As did Hockeybuzz's Bob Duff...

It’s a sure sign of how quickly Tyler Bertuzzi has developed into a key Detroit Red Wing that there was concern and consternation Thursday when the rookie left-winger was absent from practice.

Take a deep breath and relax. Wings coach Jeff Blashill assured everyone that there was nothing to fret about. It was merely a maintenance day for Bertuzzi - and captain Henrik Zetterberg, who also had the day off - and both would be in the lineup Saturday when the Wings play host to the Carolina Hurricanes at Little Caesars Arena.

Who penned an article about Bertuzzi's strong start with the Wings:

Switched from Zetterberg’s line to a unit with Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou, Bertuzzi scored his first NHL goal and added an assist in Sunday’s 4-0 road win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He followed that up with a pair of assists in Tuesday’s 4-2 home-ice loss to the Dallas Stars.

It was the third multi-point game since his recall from AHL Grand Rapids and Bertuzzi has five points in Detroit’s last four games. He shows 1-7-8 totals in 11 games this season.

Bertuzzi, who was the MVP of the AHL playoffs last spring as the Grand Rapids Griffins won the Calder Cup, has rapidly evolved into a valuable Red Wing due to his ability to get in on the forecheck and apply pressure to the opposition defense, disrupting their ability to move the puck out of the zone.

“The one thing with Bert is again, against a team that defends well, that protects the ice well, that makes it hard to get to their net, you need guys like him and that’s why he’s always been a good playoff performer,” Blashill told Detroitredwings.com. “I think when a game’s wide open, you don’t notice him as much. But when the game’s a hard grind, you notice him more, and certainly he makes tons of little plays. He’s just got real good hockey smarts and poise with a real hard approach and that’s, I think, a special combination and a combination that’s transferable to successful hockey.”

In the multimedia department, the Red Wings posted Twitter videos of Gustav Nyquist and coach Blashill speaking with the media...

And the Free Press's Helene St. James posted a video in which she speaks with Tomas Tatar, Martin Frk and coach Blashill:

After practice...

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

Avatar

What’s nice currently is AA and Larkin being on the same shift won’t be gassed. AA draws a lot of penalties and to follow immediately on a PP where he’ll need his speed as the entry player will be doing himself and the team a disservice. I realize this won’t be every PP but I question this move.

Posted by stateofmifan on 01/19/18 at 01:18 AM ET

Colin's avatar

As you probably know by now, the Red Wings’ power play zone entries are terrible, but that’s a structural issue as much as a tactical one. The Red Wings have spent the past ten years trying to launch one player into the offensive zone via a drop pass from 4 stationary players at center ice.

It used to work, but the “Datsyuk drop” was mostly powered by Pavel Datsyuk, so now it’s gotten kind of comical watching one of the defensemen drop the puck to a center forward while everybody else stands up at the blueline, including the opposition’s penalty-killers. You can’t try and catapult one or two players into the offensive zone, and regrettably, most of the Wings’ “zone entries” consist of set plays among stationary players.

That’s true of the plays when the Wings actually set up in the offensive zone as well, so movement of the skating variety would be a wonderful development all the way around.

A MILLION TIMES YES

Posted by Colin from Ken Holland's new yacht, "Incompetence" on 01/19/18 at 09:08 AM ET

Avatar

They’re usually a hard-working team, so I expect them to come out and play hard

I am curious if at any point any coach said about the other team that “they are usually a lazy team, so I do not expect them to play hard”.

Posted by VPalmer on 01/19/18 at 11:02 AM ET

Avatar

it’s gotten kind of comical watching one of the defensemen drop the puck to a center forward while everybody else stands up at the blueline

All true, but on the other hand Larkin gains the zone with absolute ease. Z unit though does not Larkin to gain the zone, so why not give them AA who can also gain the zone with ease?

Posted by VPalmer on 01/19/18 at 11:04 AM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.