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Missing pieces found in the power play

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings

Gustav Nyquist celebrates one of his two power-play goals in Friday night's 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT — An efficient power-play unit was the only thing missing from an otherwise impressive October for the Red Wings.

But on Friday, the Wings' power play broke loose, netting a pair of special teams goals in their 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings at Joe Louis Arena.

Detroit is now 5-for-39 on the power play this season.

"That was good. Big for our power play,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “I think it's been getting better and better and today we converted on the first two opportunities there so that was good."

Nyquist recorded both of the team’s power-play goals against the Kings, his sixth and seventh goals of the season.

"I think the power play's been getting better and had a lot of puck speed,” Nyquist added. “I think the biggest thing is to just get a lot of pucks back. I thought we had good puck speed today and it was nice to see it go in."

Four weeks of close calls and coming up just short on the man advantage, the PP finally saw some consistent results for their efforts in the last two games of the month. With three power-play goals in the last two games, it seems the offense has found its groove and filled a necessary piece that this Wings team had been missing.

“It’s a great boost,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “We need our power play to help us out night in and night out. We can’t really depend on our PK every single night even though the guys are doing a great job. The PP went out there, they kept it simple, they got pucks to the net and were able to capitalize.”

The Wings own the league's best penalty kill that has had a 32-for-34 success rate.

Strong performances from key players, great goaltending and the fore-mentioned penalty kill has allowed the Wings’ offense time to develop during the early stages of the season. The goal scoring (ranked 15th with 2.70 goals per game) and struggling power play continued to be a point of emphasis as the month progressed.

“Once again I thought we were great,” Howard said of the penalty kill. “We did a great job of blocking shots when we needed to and we just continue to do great job out there.”

Defenseman Brendan Smith added, “It’s a unit and (Howard) is the backbone of it and the things we can do to help him see the pucks or move players and get in shot lanes and block shots. All those little things, they all help and that’s what helps the penalty kill.”

Much of the Wings' success can be credited to impressive play from both goalies. Jimmy Howard has led the way with eight starts and posted 1.97 goals against average as well as a .929 save percentage on his way to a 5-1-2 record. Backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson also chipped in by posting the first shutout of the season, a 1-0 win over Toronto in his first start of the season.

After an injury-riddled 2013-14 season, staying healthy seems to be a concern yet again this season.

Pavel Datsyuk missed the first five games of the season with a separated shoulder. He returned just in time to replace Johan Franzen in the lineup. Friday marked the sixth straight game that Franzen has missed with a groin injury.

Despite losing star players early, the Wings still posted a strong overall 6-2-2 record and put together some quality wins against talented opponents.

Seven of the first 10 games on their schedule came against teams that made the 2014 playoffs, including Friday night’s win over the Stanley Cup champion Kings. They also split a pair of games against the Boston Bruins — the 2013-14 Presidents’ Trophy winners for finishing the regular season with the best overall record — swept a two-game weekend series with their Atlantic Division rival and Original Six member Maple Leafs and scored three straight goals in the third period and overtime to mount a comeback over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“We got good energy in our group,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We got good people, we’re playing hard and we’re getting better so I think that’s a real positive thing for us. We just got to keep getting better as a team.

The Red Wings had 17 different players who registered at least one point in October. Henrik Zetterberg is tied for fourth in the NHL with 14 points after having back surgery last February. Datsyuk has recorded a point in each of the five games he has played since returning from injury. The Wings have gotten production out of their superstars as well as the supporting cast around them.

“As we go along here we’re looking to get some more scoring up and down our roster,” general manager Ken Holland said. “I think ultimately, ten games in we’re good defensively, our goaltending has been really good, we seem to check pretty good, we did get outplayed really bad by Boston at home but for the most part the other nine games have been pretty good games. So I think 10 games in ... if you’d told me in September, 10 games in we’d be 6-2-2 and we’d miss Mule for 3-4 games, we’d miss Pav for 3-4 games, you’d have to be happy with 6-2-2.”

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