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Wings' power play is best in years

by John Kreiser
It's not unusual for the Detroit Red Wings to have the NHL's best power play this season -- the Wings were third in 2007-08 and have been in the top five every year but one this century. But this season's group is putting up numbers that haven't been seen in a long time.

Detroit's power play is connecting at a 28.1 percent rate -- a figure that no team has come close to in nearly two decades. No team has converted more than a quarter of its power-play opportunities since Pittsburgh's 26.0 percent performance during the 1995-96 season. The last team to come close to where the Red Wings are now was the 1989-90 Calgary Flames, who finished first in the NHL at 27.7 percent -- including a 31.5 percent success rate at home.

In contrast to those Flames, the Wings' power play does its best work on the road. Detroit is converting 31.0 percent of its chances away from Joe Louis Arena and "only" 25.4 percent at home -- including a 5-for-6 performance in Wednesday night's 6-2 win over Nashville.

With 72 power-play goals in 58 games entering Friday night's home game against Anaheim, the Wings are on pace to score 102 times with the man advantage this season. That would make them the first team to his triple figures since Pittsburgh scored 109 power-play goals in 1995-96 -- but would still be well below the team record of 113, set in 1992-93, or the NHL mark of 119 set by Pittsburgh in 1988-89.

Bad nights -- The Predators have been among the NHL's best penalty-killing teams all season. But when the Preds have a bad night, it's a doozy. Nashville is the only team in the League to allow five power-play goals in a game -- and it's happened twice. In addition to surrendering five to the Red Wings on Wednesday, the Predators also allowed five at home to Minnesota on Nov. 28.

In all, the Predators have allowed 44 power-play goals this season -- 10 in their two disastrous nights and 34 in the other 57 games.

Immediate return -- The Montreal Canadiens led the NHL in power-play percentage in each of the last two seasons, but have struggled badly this season after letting defenseman Mark Streit leave as a free agent. But the addition of Mathieu Schneider in a trade with Atlanta this week appears to have revitalized the Habs' man-advantage unit.

Montreal went 3-for-4 in Schneider's first game, a 4-3 shootout loss, and went 1-for-4 in Thursday's 5-4 loss at Pittsburgh, giving them 4 goals in 8 opportunities (50 percent) since the trade. Before that, they were 43-for-265 (16.2 percent) -- down from 24.1 percent last season.

Schneider's goal midway through the second period Thursday was also the first scored against the Penguins while Pittsburgh was playing down two men. The Penguins were the last team to allow a 3-on-5 goal this season -- and they also led the NHL last season by allowing only two.

Long time, no see -- No one will mistake Vancouver center Kyle Wellwood for an enforcer. But even the quietest players usually manage to pick up the odd penalty here and there. However, when Wellwood was called for high-sticking in the first period of Tuesday's game at Calgary, it ended his string of 159 games without a penalty. Wellwood, who came to Vancouver this season after four seasons with Toronto, hadn't spent time in the penalty box since he drew a high-sticking call in the second period of the Leafs' game against Florida on Apr. 11, 2006. That was the last of the seven minor penalties he was called for in 81 games that season.

New coaches, same results -- It's been a tough season for coaches in the NHL -- five have lost their jobs, and the replacements haven't fared well in their debut games.

Dan Bylsma became the fifth new coach this season when he took over the Pittsburgh Penguins when Michel Therrien was fired Sunday night -- less than 24 hours before the Pens' game against the New York Islanders. The Penguins had been 3-0 against the 30th-place Islanders under Therrien, but as had happened to this season's four other newcomers, Bylsma was a loser in his first game when the Penguins fell 3-2 in a shootout.

That dropped the newcomers' record this season to 0-2-3. Bylsma, Joel Quenneville (Blackhawks) and Rick Tocchet (Lightning) all lost in shootouts; Paul Maurice (Hurricanes) and Cory Clouston (Senators) saw their teams lose in regulation.

California goals -- Maybe the Atlanta Thrashers should arrange their schedule to go to Southern California every season. Not only did the Thrashers, owners of the NHL's second-poorest record, sweep Anaheim and Los Angeles on back-to-back nights Sunday and Monday, they set a record for the most goals scored in back-to-back games against the SoCal teams. The Thrashers put 14 pucks in the net and were credited with another goal for a shootout win as they rolled over Anaheim 8-4 and survived a third-period collapse for a 7-6 win at Los Angeles. Before this season, no team had scored more than 12 goals in consecutive games in Southern California.

No blanks -- The St. Louis' Blues' non-shutout streak against the New York Rangers will go on for another year. The Blues beat the Rangers 2-1 on Monday -- but one again were unable to put up a shutout. The Blues haven't blanked the Rangers in any of their 126 regular-season meetings, while the Rangers have shut out the Blues 10 times. Monday's game was the 13th time the Blues have limited the Rangers to just one goal.

The only other NHL team to have played that many regular-season games against an opponent without recording a shutout is another 1967 expansion team, the Los Angeles Kings. They've played the Montreal Canadiens 132 times without shutting them out once.

Southeast stompers -- If the Boston Bruins finish first in the Eastern Conference, a lot of the reason is their success against the Southeast Conference.

The Bruins are now a combined 12-0 against every Southeast team but Washington after Tuesday's 5-1 victory at Carolina. That win also completed the Bruins' first sweep of the Hurricanes since the franchise joined the NHL in 1979 as the Hartford Whalers. Boston won this season's four meetings by a combined score of 18-6.

Boston is 1-2-0 against the Capitals this season, losing twice in Washington and winning in overtime at home on Jan. 27. The teams meet for the last time this season on Feb. 28 at TD Banknorth Garden.

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