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Wings look to improve penalty kill

Tatar wants to build on momentum created at World Cup to help Wings

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

SUNRISE, FLA. - The Red Wings have generally had a very good penalty kill throughout the years.

In the season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning, that special team did not get off on the right foot, allowing three power-play goals on five chances.

"I think one thing we didn't do very well (Thursday) night at all was win face-offs on the penalty kill and that really killed us," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "So we've got to do a better job winning face-offs, we've got to correct off those face-offs, we got to make sure our D are ready to flex out on the flank guys. Ultimately, (Tyler) Johnson was alone in front on the one and it should have been our D that had him but I think the scheme and I think the guys we have, we should be real good at it. But we got to execute."

Blashill said while the centers are the ones taking the face-offs, the onus is not entirely on them to win the puck.

"I think on that Johnson goal, we got beat to a loose puck," Blashill said. "It was probably a little advantage them the way the puck fell but we got to try to win all those 50-50 pucks. We actually worked on it in practice at the pre-game skate but we got to be better at that. We can't lose that amount of face-offs on the penalty kill and have the success we want to have."

Drew Miller said they have already watched video of the penalty kill and discussed it as a group.

"I just think it was little stuff," Miller said. "Obviously you got to tip your hat to them, they got a good power play. I think (Jonathan) Drouin's goal coming off the wall there, that's just a great shot. That's a tough one for the goalie to stop and I don't think anyone was really out of position. It's just cleaning up some stuff and knowing we just got to be better."

New assistant coach Doug Houda is in charge of the penalty kill and has made a few changes but nothing really different.

"Anytime you have a new coach come in, he has his terminology and a little bit of tweaks here and there," Miller said. "But I think for the most part, a lot of it's the same and I think he incorporated a lot of the stuff we did in the past into his kind of system so it's not that much different."

In addition to executing all the small details on the penalty kill, there's another simple way to fix the problem.

"I think the biggest key is we got to stay out of the box," Miller said. "We can't have that. That's just something you can't do in today's game. You can't give teams opportunities like that."

MILLER'S FIRST GAME: Thursday's game against the Lightning was Miller's first since Jan. 10 in Anaheim.

In that game, Miller suffered a torn meniscus in his knee and had to undergo season-ending surgery.

That was just two games after Miller returned from a broken jaw.

"It felt good," Miller said. "I think a lot of the preseason games we played against a lot of younger AHL guys so we didn't play against a lot of NHL guys. It was a little bit faster game so I thought as the game went on, I felt a lot better."

TATAR LOOKS TO HELP: Tomas Tatar is in the last season of his contract but that is not the main thing on his mind this season.

"I just want to help the team," Tatar said. "Obviously last year was a disappointment. Hopefully it will be better this year, just be a little more helpful for the team, get more chance to play. We had a rough start (Thursday), we were up 3-1 and we took too many penalties. It happened, just have to work. Some new guys are here, so a new system for us, too. We changed some stuff and it's going to be really fun."

The disappointment Tatar is referring to is both the team's first-round playoff exit and his own performance, scoring 21 goals among 45 points a season after recording 29 goals among 56 points.

Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are two of the younger veteran players the Wings would like to help assume some of the burden that captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk used to carry.

"I felt like that urgency 100 percent," Tatar said. "I expect it to be that way last year too but it just, the way it was going and everything, I didn't get to play much. I tried to focus on defense to help the team, be a little more physical, bring the energy. Whatever it needs to take, I'm able to do that for the team. If it's physicality or shooting or score goals or produce, I'm here to help and I'm ready."

If Tatar is even more ready than normal for the start of the season, it's because of the high level of play at the World Cup.

Tatar played on Team Europe on a line with Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar and Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa.

Tatar scored three goals, including the game-tying goal and the overtime winner against Team Sweden that propelled Team Europe into the finals against Team Canada.

"I think last year was frustrating for him so I think having a good start in the World Cup helps him," Blashill said. "I think it helps everybody to score and gain that confidence. It helps everybody to score and have that kind of fun and to have the team success that they had. He's a guy that wants team success a ton. I think it was a good springboard for what's hopefully a really good year."

Although Team Europe was not able to overcome Team Canada, Tatar was grateful for the experience.

"It was awesome," Tatar said. "I felt like the whole tournament I got the trust in the coach. We had a great, Team Euro was really cool, we played together. It was just fun to be in the locker room. We play really calm, we talk in the locker room what to do to play better. I was glad the goals eventually came in big moment."

OPTIONAL SKATE: The Wings held an optional skate Saturday morning where all the players went to the BB&T Center but were not required to take the ice.

"I think this will be our sixth straight day on the ice between practices and games so I want to give our guys the opportunity if they want to skate, they can, if they don't, they don't have to," Blashill said. "Sometimes when we're this far away from - we're staying 30 minutes away from the rink - I'll allow them to stay at home and not even be an optional even to come to the rink. But I just thought early in the year, make sure our mindset's where our mindset needs to be and as we go through the year, we'll allow some of those other times to happen."

Both Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard were on the ice, along with Brendan Smith, Alexey Marchenko, Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, Ryan Sproul, Niklas Kronwall, Justin Abdelkader, Miller, Darren Helm, Steve Ott, Gustav Nyquist, Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou.

FACING FUTURE HALL OF FAME PLAYER: The Wings are hoping to prevent Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr from hitting a big milestone tonight - 750 goals.

The 44-year-old who made his NHL debut on Oct. 5, 1990, at the age of 18, remains humble.

"That's a lot of goals but remember, I played with so many great players," Jagr said. "I'm not really a goal scorer but (played with) great passers over my hockey career. I played with Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, one of the best passers in the league. I had him for six years on my line."

Many of the Wings were not born when Jagr made his debut, including Riley Sheahan, Tatar, Mrazek, Sproul, Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet, Larkin and Athanasiou.

Thirteen of Jagr's teammates were not yet born when his NHL career started.

Jagr did not score in the Panthers' first game but had seven shots.

"He's one of the elite players of all-time obviously," Blashill said. "He's so strong on the puck. At his age to continue what he's doing is awesome, as long as it's not tonight and against us. You know its pretty amazing the career he's had, and again just a credit to how hard he works."


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