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Notes: Power play gets different look in practice

Riley Sheahan could get a shot while Gustav Nyquist and Anthony Mantha might not

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

GROSSE POINTE WOODS, Mich. - The Red Wings' power play had a different look Thursday at the team's practice at University Liggett in Grosse Pointe Woods.

One unit had Dylan Larkin-Henrik Zetterberg-Thomas Vanek-Riley Sheahan (net front)-Mike Green.

The other had Tomas Tatar-Darren Helm-Frans Nielsen-Justin Abdelkader (net front)-Niklas Kronwall.

Notably absent were Gustav Nyquist and Anthony Mantha.

"I took a couple guys off the power play today because I was unhappy with the choice they made on the track, on a backcheck that ended up in our net," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "Will they be on the power play tomorrow? They sure might be. We'll see."

Blashill was referring to the New Jersey Devils' first shorthanded goal Tuesday night.

"That play we didn't do a good enough job of coming back hard," Nyquist said. "We talked about that, how we have to do the little things right and we didn't do that on that play. Coach makes the decisions on the power play and right now we're off it so I'll be ready if I get called on."

Nyquist is tied with Frans Nielsen for third on the team in points with 26 and Mantha is fifth with 23 points.

Sheahan has just seven assists and has not scored a goal since last April 9, 2016 at the New York Rangers.

"What they did was open up the door for me to look at two other guys, one guy that's had success on the power play in the past in Riley Sheahan," Blashill said. "Has he had it this year? No, but two years ago when the power play was second in the league, he was on it on a regular basis. So if you ask why, that's why. You look at the results here lately and you look at history."

Blashill did say that the best line in the New Jersey game was Zetterberg's with Nyquist and Mantha, which is why he hasn't ruled out using them on the power play Friday night against the Islanders.

"Just try and get pucks to the net and get some ugly goals," Zetterberg said. "Once we get some momentum and get some confidence hopefully we can get on a roll.

"Most of the time your first thought is probably your best one and stick with that. Whether that's passing or taking a shot, you should stick with it. Now we're holding onto the puck a bit too much and all of a sudden they're in the lanes and we end up slow instead of fast."

SLOW STARTS: The Wings have hurt themselves with slow starts throughout the season, but that has been magnified of late.

The Devils scored at 1:28 and 6:21 of the first period; the last game before the break the Toronto Maple Leafs scored at 5:30 of the first; and before that the Boston Bruins scored at 3:39 and 10:59 of the first.

"Huge focus. You can't play chasing the game like that," Blashill said. "What we've done is we've turned pucks over in our own end, either because of decision-making or lack of skating, and we've turned pucks over the neutral zone. Both of those things lead to being in your end too much. We got to make sure we play north hockey, especially early. We think we got to play north hockey all the time, but especially early and play as much time in their zone as possible, so now you can be on your toes."

The Wings have been outscored 49-38 in the first.

"I don't know if we tighten up or play tentative, but we've had bad first periods in general all year," Nyquist said. "Maybe not all of them have been bad, but we're chasing in a lot of games. We get down a goal and it's tough in this league to come back. It's up to us to be ready when the puck drops and play like the team that we are."

Abdelkader believes it's a matter of execution at the start.

"I just think we need to make sure we're executing at a high level right off the bat," Abdelkader said. "Making sure we're not turning pucks over, making sure we're getting pucks deep and trying to put other teams on their heels instead of letting them do the same to us."

Like most teams, the Wings have a losing record when their opponent scores first, 11-15-4.

"I think we're second-worst in the league in terms of getting scored on first," Blashill said. "Does it anger me as a coach? Yeah, and then we got to make sure we do something about it. I'm responsible for having these guys ready and I'll take responsibility for that. We got to make sure we're way better here at the start of games the rest of the way."

SMITH, HOWARD UPDATES: Both defenseman Brendan Smith, who has missed the last 12 games, and goaltender Jimmy Howard, who has missed the last 17 games, each with a knee injury, could play Saturday night.

Smith would play for the Wings while Howard would get at least one rehabilitation start with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

"We're eying Saturday as a potential return but we'll know for sure," Blashill said of Smith. "He looks like he's ready to play, so I think our coaches have done a good job preparing him. I think he's done a good job working hard, so we'll see."

Blashill said Smith would not play both games of the back-to-back, at home against the New York Islanders Friday and Saturday in Nashville.

"I think the biggest thing is physical contact," Smith said. "That's a hard thing to, I don't want to say establish, but in a practice, it's more controlled contact, and in the game it's sporadic. That's something we'll be aware of and see how it goes. It's been feeling really well. I feel very good. That's kind of the last hurdle. Other than that, it's getting conditioning back in, all the fundamentals back and getting my game going."

Smith, who missed 12 games earlier in the season with a sprained knee, said he would wear a brace on his right knee for the rest of the season.

As for Howard, the Griffins host the Milwaukee Admirals Saturday at Van Andel Arena.

"I think he's done very good, as well as you can, without real action," Blashill said. "Being in practices has helped, he's had lots of shots last couple practices. Even though he's sharing the net, at least he's getting some real action. I think (goaltending coach) Jeff Salajko has done an excellent job getting him ready. He' worked hard off the ice. Now he's got to get in there and get some game time."

Blashill said they would know for sure Friday about the plans for both players.

PRACTICE RINK: One of the many things the Wings are looking forward to next season is having their own practice rink at Little Caesars Arena.

That way, even if there is a concert or other event scheduled, they can at least practice in the same building.

"It's easier to stay at your own rink all the time," Blashill said. "Morale is something that is real important to me and it's a great thing for morale. It's a great thing for our training staff, they've got to lug all the equipment here. We don't dress and drive anymore. So from a lot of standpoints it was a huge deal to get that extra rink. I also think over the last number of years The Joe has been much busier than it was in the past. The new rink is going to be extremely busy, obviously with the Pistons as well, but just extremely busy in terms of bookings. If we would have been out of that rink all the time, coming up here all the time, it would have been almost impossible. It definitely makes it way better."

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are at Joe Louis Arena tonight.

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