GLENDALE, Ariz. – Joakim Andersson hopes he can be a factor in rejuvenating the Red Wings’ penalty kill in the second half of the season.
Andersson, who sat out five of the previous seven games, returns to the lineup tonight for the Red Wings who conclude a six-game road swing that began 13 days ago in Buffalo.
Now that Drew Miller, the team’s penalty-killing specialist, is out of the lineup for an unknown length of time with a torn meniscus, Andersson gets an opportunity to prove his special-teams worth.
Widely considered to be a solid back-checking forward, Andersson hasn’t logged that much shorthanded ice time this season. But in Miller’s absence he’ll be asked to take most of Miller’s minutes.
“I want have a big role on the penalty kill,” Andersson said. “Millsie’s a great penalty killer, but we have the personnel to be able to be real good without him, and I want to be a part of that.”
Andersson provides some diversity to his game. Though he’ll play wing on Luke Glendening’s left side on the fourth line, Andersson is a neutral center who can handle faceoff duties should his centerman get tossed from the circle.
“He hasn’t taken as many (faceoffs) this year because he hasn’t played center as much,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s been a good faceoff guy in the past. He’s a good penalty killer. We need everybody on the penalty kill to raise their level a little bit. (I’m) less concerned about last game as I am about the 20-game stretch. I thought last game a little bit process-wise was fine, I thought over a 20-game stretch it hasn’t been good enough. Mainly though, if you spend lots of time in your own end you’re going to end up getting scored on. So you got to find ways to win faceoffs, get it out, have a great penalty-kill forecheck and a great retrieval plan and get it out, and he can certainly have that.”
A wide gap exists in the PK with and without Miller. With him, the PK has successfully killed .846 of its chances (77 of 91), but without him the PK success rate has dipped dramatically to a .687 rate (33 of 48).
Andersson has played enough shorthanded time that he feels comfortable in the role.
“It’s a lot about positioning and I think I read the game good, so I’m in good positions for sure,” he said. “Then you’ve got to try to block some shots when you have to and that’s something I try to get better at.”
HEADING HOME: The current road trip has already been a success for the Wings who have grabbed eight points out of a possible 10 with wins at Buffalo, New Jersey, San Jose and Anaheim.
A won in the trip’s finale would be pretty sweet though.
“We certainly know it’s going to be a tough challenge tonight,” Blashill said. “You look at the record of Arizona over the last 10 and obviously they’ve won four straight, so it’s going to be a heck of an opponent for us tonight. We hope it’s a great game, that means we’re playing to our utmost ability. We know they’re going to as well, so tonight’s win would be a big victory, make it a heck of a trip but we got to get it done tonight.”
While it’s been a successful trip, the players are ready to get back home. Following tonight’s game against the Coyotes at Gila River Arena, they will board Red Bird III for the long flight to Detroit.
“This is just long away from home,” Dylan Larkin said. “I don’t even have kids and I’m still missing my own bed or just being home and not eating out. It’s just different. It’s great. We were lucky in California and Arizona to have great weather, but I think guys are definitely ready to head home.”
AT THE HELM: Darren Helm
LEFT WING - DET
Goals: 3 | Assists: 8 | Pts: 11
Shots: 80 | +/-: -3
snapped a seven-game pointless streak when he assisted on two first-period goals in the Wings’ 4-2 loss in Los Angeles on Monday.
For the center converted to forward, that was his third multi-point game of the season.
“Got to look at the positives of that game,” he said. “I thought early on in the game I was moving pretty well, skating pretty hard, getting to loose pucks, protecting the puck pretty well. Look at those things and try to build off of them. It’s a tough league, it’s tough to do it every night but you got to find ways to do it, contribute and that’s what I got to work on.”
Helm, who has three goals and 11 points in 39 games this season, and while he’s been skating lately on the second line with center Pavel Datsyuk and forward Tomas Tatar, offensive consistency, has eluded the 28-year-old.
“Consistency as far as points, yeah,” said Helm, who has two goals and four assists in past 15 games. “I think I’ve strung along some good stretches of games where I haven’t produced, but it’s been a little bit difficult this year than the previous. But still lots of games left and I still have lots to prove.”