DETROIT — Eight games into the season, one thing stands out from this Red Wings team.
Their efficiency on the penalty kill has been a key component to the team’s strong start in the 2014-15 season, posting a league-high 96.2 success rating.
“We’ve been doing such a great job on the penalty kill, when we get shorthanded I don’t think anyone panics,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “We know we’re going to kill it off and we do.”
The Wings PK unit killed off 25 consecutive penalties to begin the season before surrendering their first power-play goal at the hands of Brayden Schenn and the Philadelphia Flyers in Saturday night’s 4-2 loss.
Nobody on the Wings’ roster has spent more time killing off penalties than center Luke Glendening. He’s spent 28:38 on the ice – more than 20 percent of his total ice time – killing off penalties. A key reason for that could be his success in the faceoff circle, where he possesses a team-high 57.9 winning percentage. Being able to win face-offs and establishing possession is important but when playing short-handed, it becomes crucial.
“I think we’ve just gotta go do our job,” Glendening said. “We just gotta keep sticking to the principles that got us this far. Obviously, teams are going to get chances but the more we can eliminate and the more aggressive we can be the better.”
Offensive production has started out a little slow – averaging just 2.25 goals per game – so having such a reliable penalty-killing unit has been an imposing equalizer for the Wings limiting the opponent’s scoring chances.
“We’re working together,” Howard said. “We’re working as a unit. We’re doing a good job of boxing out in front and allowing me to see shots. That helps me tremendously, not being 6-foot-5 or anything like that; I’m a little bit on the smaller side for starting goalies now-a-days in the NHL. When our guys box out and I’m allowed to see shots it allows me to be big.”
Howard has been integral on the penalty kill, stopping 28 of 28 shots faced with his team shorthanded. But aside from that, he has posted impressive numbers including a .929 save-percentage and an 1.96 goals-against average with a 3-1-2 record.
Earning at least one point in six of the first eight games in October has the Wings feeling confident with a 4-2-2 overall mark. After facing a challenging start full of playoff teams from last season – Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Boston twice – Howard said this team is right where they hoped to be.
“I think it’s a start we all were looking for,” he said. “Looking at the schedule heading up to training camp, looking at it you didn’t really know. It was going to be a true test and I think we‘ve done a good job. We’ve got (two) more games here at the end of the month that are going to be real good tests for our team.”
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
WEDNESDAY — at WASHINGTON (4-2-2):
Center - WSH
Goals: 5 | Assists: 1 | Pts: 6
Shots: 31 | +/-: 1
After 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, coach Barry Trotz looks to get his new team back in the playoffs after missing out last season by just four points. The first of three meetings, Washington went 2-0-1 in the regular-season series in 2013-14, combining with the Wings for 25 goals in three games. Each of those games extended beyond regulation and two games were decided in a shootout. The Capitals have picked up at least one point in six of their first eight games this season and are tied for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 10 points. Much of their success has to do with their fifth-ranked power play, converting on 25.9 percent of their man advantage opportunities.
PLAYER TO WATCH: A five-time 50-goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin is off it a hot start in 2014. The team captain and the leading goal-scorer through the Capitals’ first eight games, Ovechkin has five goals (sixth in the NHL). Always an offensive threat, Ovechkin is particularly efficient on the man advantage. He is ranked third among active NHL players with 153 power-play goals in 10 seasons. In his last 10 games against the Wings, Ovechkin has scored eight goals and 14 points with five of those goals coming on the power play.
FRIDAY — vs. LOS ANGELES (6-1-1):
Center - LAK
Goals: 5 | Assists: 7 | Pts: 12
Shots: 19 | +/-: 12
Winners of six in a row, the defending Stanley Cup champions will be carrying plenty of momentum into this matchup. Seven of the Kings’ first eight games were at home in the friendly confines of the Staples Center. They will begin a five game road trip of which the Kings will visit Detroit, a place where they haven’t won since March 9, 2011. The Kings are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games against the Wings and could be missing star center Anze Kopitar who left Sunday night’s game in the second period against the Columbus Blue Jackets with an upper-body injury. Coach Darryl Sutter said “He’s all right” after the Kings' 5-2 victory when asked about Kopitar's injury and whether he will travel with the team on a six-game road trip that begins Tuesday in Philadelphia. The Kings are also without injured forwards Marian Gaborik and Trevor Lewis. ... Nobody in the league spends more time in the penalty box than the Kings, averaging 16.2 penalty minutes per game. That won’t make it any easier to score, however, as the Kings have an efficient penalty-killing unit (seventh in the NHL) and claim a 1.50 goals-against average, second-lowest in the NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The 6-foot-4 Jeff Carter (5-7—12, +12) is a large body at the center position. Playing alongside Tyler Toffoli (4-8—12, +11) and Tanner Pearson (7-2—9, +9), ‘That 70’s Line’ has accounted for 16 of the Kings’ 21 goals this season. The Carter line has combined for 16 goals and 33 points with a plus-32 rating in eight games this season. Carter set a career high for assists in one game and also matched a career high for points in another. He has registered three prior four-point games, most recently Oct. 8, 2009 vs. Pittsburgh. ... Entering his 11th NHL season, Carter has scored 20 or more goals in seven consecutive seasons and has scored two goals and five points in his last six games at Joe Louis Arena.
SUNDAY — at BUFFALO (2-7-0):
Center - BUF
Goals: 2 | Assists: 1 | Pts: 3
Shots: 19 | +/-: 1
The first of three meetings this season, Buffalo went 0-4-0 in the regular-season series in 2013-14 and hasn’t beaten the Wings since Oct. 13, 2009. The Sabres finished dead last in the NHL last season with 52 points and are off to another slow start, scoring a league-worst 10 goals through nine games. Buffalo is one of only two teams in the NHL yet to score a power-play goal but have an eighth-ranked penalty kill with an 84.8 percent rating. Both of the Sabres' wins come on the road including a tough 2-1 victory over at San Jose. They have yet to record a win at First Niagara Center, a place where they went 13-21-7 last season.PLAYER TO WATCH:
Entering his second NHL season, 20-year-old center Zemgus Girgensons was the 14th overall draft pick in 2012. During his rookie campaign, Girgensons scored eight goals and 22 points in 70 regular-season games and had a goal in each of the Sabres' first two games this season. He particularly likes playing against the Wings, scoring in his NHL debut on Oct. 2, 2013 in the Sabres’ 2-1 loss in Detroit. He also recorded his first two-goal game on April 9, the last time the Wings visited Buffalo. All three of those goals came at even strength, so Girgensons presents a unique threat while playing in five-on-five situations.