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Red Wings trying to improve struggling power play

by Brian Hedger

The numbers by themselves don't tell the whole story, but the tale being spun thus far by the Detroit Red Wings' power play is an ugly one.

Heading into a home game against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings (2-2-1) find themselves sitting near the bottom of the League in power-play efficiency. Through five games, they’ve converted two of their 26 man-advantage opportunities into goals, for a 7.7 percent success rate.

Included in that number is a 0-for-6 output in a 2-1 overtime road loss Sunday to the Chicago Blackhawks, including 43 seconds of 5-on-3 time squandered.

"No question when your power play isn't zipping, it is draining," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "You're using your best players and you're wearing them out. We have to look at it. We have to fix it, for sure."

Yes, the Red Wings are only heading into their sixth game. Yes, they are hampered by a glut of injuries to veteran regulars -- including defensemen Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo. They're also missing legendary former captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired last spring and was one of the best power-play quarterbacks in the history of the game.

Still, nobody in the Detroit locker room is making excuses -- especially with 42 games left in the regular season.

"It's an issue for us," Babcock said of his power-play units. "It should be better with the skill level we have, and it's not. So, we'll fix that and move on."

Detroit does have a spate of skilled stars on its roster despite the retirements of Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom, who made his name by scoring goals around the net on power plays. The Red Wings still have star captain Henrik Zetterberg, star center Pavel Datsyuk, high-scoring power forward Johan Franzen and two-way standout defenseman Niklas Kronwall, not to mention the ever-improving Valtteri Filppula, Todd Bertuzzi and impressive Swiss rookie Damien Brunner.

So the question becomes: How, short of sending out some sort of "Bat signal" to Lidstrom in Sweden, does a group with such firepower get its lagging power play back on track?

The simplest answer is just shooting the puck more often. The Red Wings didn't help their cause in Chicago by often passing the puck around too much while looking for a great shot with the extra skater.

"We're not aggressive on the power play," Datsyuk said. "We don't have second chances, rebounds."

A lack of pucks flying toward the net is one reason, according to Franzen.


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"It feels like they know what we're going to do," he said. "[Teams] probably scout us pretty well. We've got to threaten them from more positions. Right now, we know it's either [Kronwall] or [Brunner] who's going to shoot the puck, pretty much. I think we've got to see [Datsyuk] and [Zetterberg] shoot the puck a little more and get them thinking a little bit."

Babcock agrees, and also would like to see the Red Wings ratchet up the desperation level on the power play.

"We're slow with the puck," he said. "Right now we're cleaning it off instead of moving it quick. When we shoot the puck, they've got four guys going to it quicker than our guys are going to it and we're one-and-done all the time. We've just got to be more competitive in those situations."

Zetterberg concurred after watching the Blackhawks routinely clear loose pucks and even mount their own offensive chances while shorthanded against the Red Wings.

"I think we're doing a lot of good things when we have the puck," Zetterberg said. "It's just that [against Chicago] we weren't there for the second pucks. They were better than us clearing pucks after shots. We got the opportunity to shoot the puck, but after that they got the puck back and they [sent it] 200 feet."

Along with it goes the Red Wings' confidence level after each advantage that passes without a goal, or even sustained pressure. The hope against Dallas on Tuesday is to recapture their old swagger with the extra man, something Detroit did last Friday with two power-play goals in a big win against the Minnesota Wild -- their only power-play goals this season.

"We should build off that," Franzen said. "I think it's just a matter of getting the shots and getting traffic."

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