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Positioning, speed keys to Red Wings' stingy defense

by Paul Harris

DETROIT -- A big part of the Detroit Red Wings' success this season has been limiting their opponents' shots on goal and scoring chances.

Detroit (17-7-8) is allowing an average of 27.4 shots per game entering Friday against the New York Islanders. That's fourth in the NHL, trailing the Minnesota Wild (25.9). Tampa Bay Lighthing (27.2) and St. Louis Blues (27.2).

A key component of that is the spacing between the Red Wings' forwards and defensemen when they are forechecking and their opponents are attempting to come out of their own zone with the puck.

"I think their defensemen are really good in the way they play in the offensive zone," Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "And the defense play up in the neutral zone and they force you to dump it in. They don't spread out a lot when they're in the offensive zone."

That's the goal, according to Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

"When we're playing our best, that's what we have," he said. "We keep the D short, not much distance between the defense and the forwards."

Another component is speed.

Thanks to an influx of young players over the past two seasons, the Red Wings are one of the League's fastest teams. In addition to using it to create chances on offense, they use speed to take chances away defensively.

"When we're tight defensively, it's the reason, especially when we play with speed. I think all that limits chances against," center Luke Glendening said. "… [Coach Mike Babcock] talks about it a lot, playing as a five-man unit in the offensive and defensive zones. When you do that and you play with speed, it ultimately takes away chances."

But Detroit hasn't been quite as effective in its past four games, in which the Red Wings are 0-1-3.

"We normally give up no chances off the rush and we don't give up much in our own zone. We have to get back to giving up no chances," Babcock said.

He added there are two more important ingredients to limiting opponents' chances.

"Work. Organized work. Good players that work hard and commit without it (the puck)," Babcock said. "I didn't think we were bad defensively, except on the rush last game (a 1-0 shootout loss to Columbus on Tuesday) we turned over some pucks. They flipped some and we made some makes sorting it out, so they got chances off the rush."

Detroit struggled to score early in the season and leaned on its defense. The Red Wings then scored 57 goals in a 16-game span to move among the NHL leaders in that category.

Detroit has scored four goals in its past four games.

"It's like anything. We didn't score for a long time, we found ways to win defensively," Babcock said. "We got to score a little bit more and we got to keep it out."

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