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Defensive priorities

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Brad Richards moved up to a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm Thursday in practice. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- Earlier in the season, the Wings were having trouble scoring and wanted to be able to score a little more without giving too much up.

In March, things have swung a little too far the other way.

The Wings have been scoring, including six straight games with at least one power-play goal, but their opponents are also scoring more.

In 14 games so far in March, the Wings have allowed 49 goals.

In 14 games in February, the Wings allowed 37 goals.

In 11 games in January, the Wings allowed 19 goals.

"In the month of March we’ve given up too many goals, so we got to do a better job there for sure," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "We’ve been able to score goals and I have confidence we’ll be able to continue. I thought for the most part we just got to clean up mental errors. We just got to make sure it’s every puck, every play and we’re sharp in our decisions every single time."

The Wings have had some good defensive games, like the one against the New York Rangers on March 12, but it has not been consistent enough for sustained success.

"I think we’ve come off it defensively," Justin Abdelkader said. "We’ve given up too many goals, there’s been multi reasons why. Defensively we have to tighten up. We can’t keep talking about it because we can’t expect to score four or five goals a game."

One thing that can improve is on-ice communication.

"Everyone needs to want the puck and talk," Jonathan Ericsson said. "Communication is the number one thing so we know where everyone is so we can help each other out because a lot of times when you go and get pucks you have your back to the player so we don’t really know what’s going on behind you. Just communicate, want the puck and be open. Everyone is going to do a better job of doing that."

That kind of communication can be vital, especially with so many young players on the team.

"It's always important," Darren Helm said. "It just livens up the guys on the ice, on the bench. We've always, since I've been here, been kind of a quieter team. I think if we talk a little bit more on the ice, it just helps out everybody, makes everyone's job a little bit easier. It's important for our team because like you said, we do have a few younger guys, but it helps out the veteran guys as well, just knowing where guys are, it helps with assignments."

The other thing is the Wings can't allow themselves to lose focus once the other team does score.

"Getting scored on or scoring a goal shouldn’t change anything," Kyle Quincey said. "You go out there and do the exact same thing over and over again. Your mindset shouldn’t change. I think that might be momentum shifts in the game you’re talking about but our mindset shouldn’t be any different."

LINE CHANGE: In Thursday's practice, Brad Richards was moved up to the line with Pavel Datsyuk and Helm and Anthony Mantha was shifted down with Luke Glendening and Andreas Athanasiou.

"Just looking at different line combinations," Blashill said. "The one thing that Richie has done, he's been through lots in his career, including as recently as last year. When the game's in the third period, he certainly knows how to chip pucks out, chip pucks in and still make plays when the plays are there to be made."

Helm said Richards' veteran leadership can always help.

"He knows the game really well. He's got a good vision for the game, can make some really good plays. I think he's been working really hard, I think his skating is underestimated and he brings some speed, tenacity and I think he's a guy that wants to win and knows how to do that. It'll be good having him on our line."

DEFENSE AND GOALTENDING DECISIONS: Although Blashill said final lineup decisions would be made Friday, Brendan Smith was still the odd man out in practice Thursday, which he has been the last two games.

"There's lots that go into those decisions, a lot of which I won't talk about," Blashill said. "But I think there's tons in terms of resume, history, execution on a game-to-game basis. Everybody's got their opinions on who should play and who shouldn't. What I know is we've got seven NHL-caliber defensemen. I also know that the six that play have to play at a high level. And if we're going to win here tomorrow, they got to play at a high level, whichever six we choose."

Blashill also said he would announce Friday's goaltender on Friday.

"There’s numerous factors that go into it, most recent performance, history, resume, how guys have done against the team," Blashill said. "But lots of it has got to do with most recent performance, lots of it has to do with where I think they’re at in their games. Lots of it has to do with the schedule. We’ll continue to try to make the best decision we can and the guy that plays has to go out and execute at a high level."

SURPRISE DELIVERY: After hearing that Clark Park was struggling to meet the challenges of providing equipment and other gear for youth players in southwest Detroit, Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar decided to do something.

Joined by representatives from CCM, Tatar dropped in to surprise the kids, ages 5-18, at the Dearborn Ice Skating Center after the Red Wings’ practice Thursday.

“It’s always nice to do something for the kids and for a good cause,” Tatar said. “Obviously, those kids are looking at you like something that they would like to be, like a hero. I remember when I was young and I had the chance to meet some NHL guys, it was a huge experience for me and it gave me hope that I could be one of them one day.”

Since 1991, the Clark Park Hockey Coalition has maintained the outdoor rink for the youth players of southwest Detroit. The program is emblematic of CCM’s Made of Hockey campaign that takes on many forms, from those who play the sport to those who support those who love it.

The rink, which is in the shadows of the Ambassador Bridge, operates mainly on donations.

Giving back to the community is nothing new for Red Wings’ players, but Tatar wanted to be present when CCM made the delivery to Clark Park’s spring facility in Dearborn.

“I think we do a lot here as the Red Wings overall, but back home during the summer there’s lots of charity soccer games and lots of donations,” he said. “So back home obviously, it’s different for me, there’s lots of time off and I think that’s when you should get involved and help as much as you can.”

MCCOLLUM AHL MAN OF THE YEAR: Thomas McCollum, goaltender for the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Wings' AHL affiliate, has been named the team's winner of the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award for his community service work.

In addition to helping the team's community efforts, McCollum has devoted himself to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids and their floor hockey program.

McCollum is the only three-time nominee in the franchise's history and is now eligible for the AHL's 2015-16 Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, which goes to the overall IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year.


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