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Notes: Wings need improvement on penalty kill

Erne could return to the lineup against the Oilers

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings have plenty of capable penalty killers.

The problem is that even when they were structurally sound earlier in the season, the opponent was still scoring.

Of late, the structure has broken down a bit.

"I thought for a long time our penalty kill was doing a good job and pucks were going in," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think lately, the penalty kill hasn't been good. We've given them more seam passes than we had previous, without a doubt. We got to get back and make sure we're better structurally.

"I thought it went for a bit where we were giving up the shots you're willing to give up and they went in. Sometimes that happens. But now we've given up too many seam-type passes and seam-type plays for goals. We're going to have to be super-sharp tomorrow."

Last season, the Wings finished 28th in the league at 77.1 percent. Currently they are 29th at 69.2 percent.

In Sunday's 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues, the Wings took a too many men on the ice penalty at 15:19 of the third while trying to preserve a 4-3 lead.

While that particular penalty never should have happened, the Wings have to be able to rely on their penalty kill no matter what.

Instead, the Blues scored on their first shot, just 23 seconds into the man-advantage.

"At that point of the game, the game on the line, we should be able to muster up enough energy and be thinking hard enough out there where we're not making any mistakes to let that happen," Darren Helm said. "Maybe it's a confidence thing right now. The puck just seems to be going in no matter how hard we're working. But we gotta find a way.

"This is a really good group that I think can kill off penalties. We just gotta get that confidence back. I don't know if it's going to be going out there and getting 10 kills in a row, or it's just telling ourselves we can do it. I think that's gotta be the mindset the next game against an Edmonton team that's very talented."

Indeed, the Edmonton Oilers are currently ranked first in the league on the power play at 33.3 percent (11-of-33).

It certainly does not help matters that the Wings are without two of their better penalty killers in center Luke Glendening and defenseman Danny DeKeyser, both out a minimum of two weeks.

"Obviously, Glenny is a big part of that PK unit and our team," Helm said. "Face-offs, blocking shots, his work ethic. Danny is also very good in that area. Missing Abby (Justin Abdelkader) in there was also a big loss. I think that we got enough guys left that can kill on our team. We should be doing that."

When the Wings played at Edmonton Oct. 18, they only took two penalties and killed off both.

In order to keep the Oilers in check, they will have to remain as disciplined as possible.

ATHANASIOU STILL LOOKING TO SCORE: Although the start to his season was slowed by a preseason injury, Andreas Athanasiou is still getting chances.

But thus far, none have gone in.

Athanasiou has three assists in 10 games and is a team-worst minus-12.

He is seventh on the team in shots with 22. Anthony Mantha leads in both goals with seven and shots with 50.

"I've said this before, he's the type of player that gets some real big-time chances, at times out of nowhere with his speed, and he's had those chances," Blashill said. "If you look back to the number of breakaways he's had, I think Fil (Valtteri Filppula) had the breakaway the other night and he pokes at the rebound, it doesn't go in but he was right there on it. So he's getting the chances that he has previously scored on. Right now they're not going in. He's just gotta stay with it.

"Him and I talked about when they're not going in, you gotta make sure you do everything else right. You gotta make sure that your game is really sound structurally, you're really good and then find your way to the net and score some dirty goals. So I think that's an area that he can keep getting better at so he doesn't have to rely on the home run-type goals. So hopefully he continues to focus on that."

Blashill said since the team's fifth game of the season, Athanasiou's third, at home against Toronto, Athanasiou has looked good.

"When you don't score, it's hard to not end up in the minus range," Blashill said. "We went on the road into Vancouver and I think he's played much better in the last number of games. He's been engaged, he had a great backcheck last night at a critical moment in the game -- actually had two great backchecks last night -- he's doing a lot of those types of things. But he's gotta get scoring. Again, it's impossible to never have any minuses.

"He's somebody that has to score."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: With 4 points (2G, 2A) in 4 games, Tyler Bertuzzi is our @Xfinity Player of the Week. #LGRW

ERNE COULD PLAY, ABDELKADER IN QUESTION: Forward Adam Erne, who was injured on Oct. 15 in Vancouver, missed one game, then played Oct. 18 in Edmonton.

Since then, he was placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury and has missed the last four games.

That could change Tuesday night.

"I feel good," Erne said after the team's practice Monday at the BELFOR Training Center. "We did some good rehab over the last couple days and hopefully it feels good tomorrow, we'll see how it feels tomorrow."

Erne, who skated on a line with Taro Hirose and Frans Nielsen in practice, said he's a game-time decision.

"We went full practice today, full everything, and I felt good," Erne said. "So we'll see how it goes overnight."

Justin Abdelkader, who suffered a lower-body injury in Ottawa on Oct. 23, has missed the last two games but practiced on Monday.

Blashill said Abdelkader is getting there but is not sure if he's ready to play against the Oilers.

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