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Notes: Wings pleased with early returns from special teams

Larkin practices, plans to play Friday; Blashill believes Athanasiou and Nielsen will also play

by Dana Wakiji and Arthur J. Regner @Dwakiji and @ArthurJRegner /

DETROIT -- It's just 15 games into the season but so far, the Red Wings are pleased with their special teams.

The power play is currently ninth in the league at 26.1 percent while the penalty kill is 10th at 82.1 percent.

"I think both assistants have had good plans from day one, that's No. 1," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think they've done a good job of making adjustments when needed. We've had guys on our penalty kill over the course of a couple years up front, a number of them have killed, so they've done a good job of getting better at it, whether it was Christoffer Ehn early or Jacob de la Rose lately. They've been good additions.

"On the power play, we've had some additions that have helped, certainly (Dennis) Cholowski and (Michael) Rasmussen with the net presence. But guys have done a good job executing as well."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "I anticipate all three of them playing (Larkin, AA, Nielsen)."Coach Blashill wraps up today's practice: 👇

Six of Cholowski's eight points have come on the power play, including one goal.

"He sees the ice really well, he's got great composure, which helps on the PP for sure," said Mike Green, who quarterbacks one power-play unit while Cholowski quarterbacks the other. "And he shoots the puck really well, too. He moves across the line well. For a young guy he's got all the tools and he's done a great job stepping in, so kudos to him."

Dan Bylsma runs the power play and Doug Houda runs the penalty kill. Houda has been running the penalty kill units for a while but Bylsma took over for John Torchetti this season.

"Different mindset, different strategy and then his approach to implementing those things," Green said of Bylsma. "We were pretty receptive to it in a quick period of time and able to execute."

Dylan Larkin, who plays on both the power play and penalty kill, is thrilled to see both units contributing.

"The power play's been scoring big goals for us," Larkin said. "I think we're simplifying it. We're using different looks. Guys have been out of our lineup, key guys on our power play and penalty kill and we've had great depth, guys coming in and scoring big goals. I think for our PK to be good our goaltender's got to be our best penalty killer, and so far, both (Jonathan) Bernier and Howie (Jimmy Howard) have been. So if we continue that, we're gonna just help ourselves and give ourselves more chances to win."

The Wings finished last season 24th on the power play at 17.5 percent and 23rd on the penalty kill at 77.5 percent.

"We just felt like for us to finish higher in the standings we needed top 10 specialty teams and we didn't get it done last year and the standings reflected that, especially with the number of close games we were in," Blashill said. "We're in a league where the majority of games are one-goal games and we've certainly been in tons of them and specialty teams can make a difference. With that said, it's early and it's a relentless league, so we better keep getting better at it."

One thing that did work well for the Wings last year was scoring shorthanded.

They had nine shorthanded goals with Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Darren Helm and Luke Glendening each tallying two.

Their shorthanded prowess has continued this year as they already have four shorthanded goals.

"If Doug had hair he's have less at times the way our guys want to try take off and score and sometimes it's to his chagrin," Blashill said. "But the reality is, when you can score shorthanded you put the other team on their heels, or if you get chances shorthanded you put the other team on their heels. I guarantee when you've had chances shorthanded, the power play meeting for the other team starts with a couple examples of that. Right away you're thinking defense instead of offense with the power play, so I think certainly doing a good job executing on the kill is important but anytime you can put the other team on their heels it's a critical thing and our guys have done a good job of not only getting those opportunities but scoring on them enough times over the last few years."

LARKIN PRACTICES: After taking a rare day off from practice, Larkin was back on the ice Thursday at the Belfor Training Center.

"I got tangled up with a guy in the corner and it came from behind, so it could have been worse but it is what it is," Larkin said. "Part of the game. Lucky I'm all right. I'll be fine tomorrow. Good to go."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "Feel a lot better today, just needed a day to recover."More from @Dylanlarkin39 following today's practice: 👇

Larkin said he hadn't been campaigning to get in the shootout but he was happy that he scored the winning goal against Vancouver Tuesday. 

"It did feel good to finally get one," Larkin said. "I've had plenty of chances. This is the first time I've had a move in mind and just stuck with it. I think part of that was going first. There was a little bit . . . not as much pressure, I guess. It was nice to score and it was nice to see Howie with some big stops in the shootout, and for us to get the two points, which was most important."

Andreas Athanasiou and Frans Nielsen also both practiced fully.

Nielsen was going to undergo testing as part of the concussion protocol so he could gain clearance to return.

Blashill said he anticipated that both Athanasiou and Nielsen would be able to join Larkin in the lineup Friday against the New York Rangers.

HOWARD WANTS TO BE A CAREER RED WING: On Thursday, reported the Red Wings are planning to offer Howard a contract extension, which should not come as too much of a surprise.

To a man, the Wings have felt their veteran netminder has been their MVP over the course of the last year and half.

Howard, 34, is in the last year of a six-year deal with a cap hit of $5.29 million per season and has been a significant reason why Detroit has turned its fortunes around after beginning the season with an 0-5-2 record.

The Wings have won four of their last five games and Howard's numbers have been solid -- he's 3-0-0 in his last three starts with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage.

When asked how his contract talks were going, Howard was somewhat dumbfounded.

"This is the first I've heard of it," he said.

So, the Red Wings haven't approached you about an extension?

"Nothing, no."

But you must be happy they want to extend you?

"Yeah, if they're thinking it. There hasn't been any communication or anything like that, so I can't really comment on it," Howard said. "I've been through it before a couple of times, so I'm just going about my business really. If talks happen, it's great.

"Obviously, my wife and I want to stay here, this is home, but until then just keep playing (laughs). It would be an honor to finish up my career here and I want to stay here. If it happens, it happens. Like I said nothing has been brought to myself or my agent, so I really don't want to say too much to jinx the process, I guess."

This season Howard is 4-5-2, with a 2.93 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. He has appeared in 472 games as a Red Wing and has started 455 of those games as Detroit's goaltender. His career totals are 225-156-65, with a 2.50 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage and 24 shutouts.        

SOLD-OUT POKER TOURNAMENT A SUCCESS: The Wings participated in the 10th annual MotorCity Casino Hotel Charity Poker Tournament Wednesday night.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Happy to be back at @MotorCityCasino���s 10th Annual #RedWings Charity Poker Tournament! ������������������������

Proceeds from the sold-out event, which included a silent auction and strolling dinner reception, go towards supporting the growth of hockey in the state of Michigan.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Starting the night off with a little meet and greet! #MotorCityCasino ������������������������

Ten current Wings and two alumni, Darren McCarty and Larry Murphy, played along with the 108 participants.

Jacob de la Rose, one of the newest Wings, said he actually never plays poker but somehow he was the last Wing standing.

"I don't know," de la Rose said. "Smart guy, right, Bert?"

Tyler Bertuzzi responded, "Lucky guy."

de la Rose said he enjoyed his first time at the event.

"It was for a great cause so I had no problem doing it," he said.

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