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Notes: Match line has tough challenge Wednesday in McDavid line

Wings also counting on penalty kill's success against hot power play

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- During the Red Wings' last road trip, the team went .500 and found something to help in the process.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill put together a line with Frans Nielsen at center and Luke Glendening and Darren Helm on the wings to match up against other teams' top lines.

Since all three are natural centers, any one of them can take a face-off and all of them are important on the penalty kill.

"They've been excellent. That (Nathan) MacKinnon line is a great line and (Mikko) Rantanen's a really good player, McKinnon's one overall, (Gabriel) Landeskog's two overall," Blashill said. "They went head to head against them all night long and until the very last wee moments of the game, shut them down. They've created lots of zone time, they've created lots of energy. In the last game we had to kill so many penalties that they ended up playing tons of minutes. But I think they've done an excellent job."

The next challenge for that line will be Edmonton's top line of Patrick Maroon-Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl.

Although the Oilers are off to a slow 7-11-2 start, McDavid has 10 goals and 15 assists in 20 games.

Draisaitl has five goals and nine assists in 16 games while Maroon has five goals and seven assists in 20.

"It's a great opportunity, a great challenge," Helm said. "It's not an easy one for sure. (McDavid's) definitely one of the best players in the league. He's very dangerous with the puck. You put a lot on yourself to be good, and that could be the difference in the game."

Petr Mrazek made 36 saves in the Wings' 4-0 victory in Edmonton but Howard said he will be starting at home against the Oilers Wednesday.

"I played against (McDavid) last year," Howard said. "When he's on the ice, you got to be aware, but at the same time he's one of those players that makes players around him so much better. You got to be aware of when he's got the puck on his stick because if he's not shooting it, he can make those plays to Draisaitl or Maroon."

SUCCESS ON PENALTY KILL: The Wings have a much-improved power play this year, ranked eighth at 22.4 percent, but the penalty kill has been even better.

The Wings had a good penalty kill last season but this season they are currently sixth at 84.6 percent.

The Oilers are 11th in the league on the power play at 21.4 percent but have five goals in their last three games with the man-advantage.

"I just think against anybody but certainly a group that's been having success, when you get on your heels, you're in trouble, whether it's on the power play or not," Blashill said. "It's hard to be attack mode if you're worried about getting scored on, if you're worried about letting players in behind you.

"Certainly with the speed that we have with each group that we put out there, there's a chance that we're going to have a good chance to score a shorty, whether that's with (Dylan) Larkin and Glennie, whether that's Double-A (Andreas Athanasiou) and Abby (Justin Abdelkader), certainly Frans and Helmer can both really skate. There's enough speed out there that you can put the other team on their heels. Sometimes that's the best way to kill is to put the other team on their heels."

The Wings have scored shorthanded goals this season with Helm, Nielsen, Glendening and Larkin getting those.

The only other teams with four shorthanded goals are the New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets.

"We've gotten a few opportunities and obviously we've scored a couple," Helm said. "We see breaks, we're going after it. Obviously, you get the puck down first so you can get an opportunity for a goal and try and create some offense."

Wings assistant coach Doug Houda has stressed to the penalty killers that he wants them to be aggressive against the power play.

"If you get an opportunity, be aggressive with the puck and try to do something with it instead of just firing it down the ice and go change," Helm said. "I think we've done a better job of being smarter with our opportunities. Going when we have a chance and icing it when we don't. I think when you're trying to be too aggressive, it can backfire a little bit too much and either get you tired, or put it in your net. I think guys have been doing a good job of just being smart with the opportunities and aggressive with the ones we get."

Helm agreed with what Glendening said last week, that it was more fun to play that style of penalty kill.

"Absolutely I love it," Helm said. "It's hard to play against and it's fun to play. We're kind of doing our job if we're being aggressive, calculating our chances. I think we're doing a pretty good job of it so far. We'll continue to get more opportunities."

WORKING ON THE HOLIDAY: The Wings have a game Friday in New York against the Rangers and Blashill said since Madison Square Garden isn't available for a morning skate, the team will practice on Thanksgiving before flying to New York.

"I wish we didn't have to practice on Thursday, I'm sure there's other people around here that wish we didn't have to practice on Thursday but Madison Square Garden doesn't give us ice that day and it was just one of those things we had off and we had to reschedule it," Blashill said. "I would love to let people who it is important to them to have a longer chance to be at home and maybe enjoy a turkey meal but in the end we're paid to be in this profession, we got to go do it."

Blashill said that for some players who aren't from the United States, it's just another day to them.

"I would say that there's one holiday that's important to me in my life and that's Christmas because I've always had Christmas off," Blashill said. "I've spent tons of Thanksgivings, I've talked to this group about this before, on the road recruiting. Not that Thanksgiving's not important but you just learn that part of your business and part of your job is that holidays don't mean as much to my family and me as they mean to other families because of the fact that we don't get to be there. Christmas, again, is one that we've always had off so that's always been a really, really special time for me and my family, my immediate family and my extended family."

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