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Slumping PK has Wings alarmed

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings' penalty kill has surrendered goals in nine straight games, sputtering along at a 65.7 percent clip killing off just 23 of 35 chances. (Photo by Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – Following Saturday’s debacle in Philadelphia, in which the Red Wings suffered their most lopsided loss in two years, captain Henrik Zetterberg said rock bottom is an exit often taken to reach better fortune.

Always the optimist, coach Mike Babcock was more upbeat Sunday morning, though he’s alarmed with the sudden backwards steps taken by his team’s penalty kill unit.

The Red Wings’ PK allowed three goals in Saturday’s 7-2 loss at Wells Fargo Center. The penalty kill has surrendered goals in nine straight games, sputtering along at a 65.7 percent clip killing off just 23 of 35 chances.

“You look at our penalty kill it was the best in the National Hockey League,” Babcock said. “We were a machine on the kill and we were jumping over the boards knowing we were gonna kill it. Suddenly now … we were as passive as any group I’ve ever seen in my life yesterday. We’re more fragile right now.”

It’s been more than four years since the Wings’ PK allowed goals in nine straight games, and nearly 10 years since they gave up PP goals in 10 consecutive contests.

But this year’s special-teams unit was credited for helping propel the Wings toward the top of the Atlantic Division standings. At one point, it was the top-ranked PK in the league. Now they’re No. 20.

Detroit’s PK was perfect through the first seven games of the season, but now they seem paralyzed.

“It’s too much standing around, looking, not really trusting each other,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We’ve got to get back to what we were doing in the beginning of the year, playing more aggressive and trusting in each other.”

It should help that Evgeni Malkin (lower-body) has been ruled out for this afternoon’s game at Consol Energy Center. Meanwhile, Sidney Crosby (illness), who is tied for fifth in league power-play points, will be a game-time decision.

But Babcock said today’s game is more about what Detroit does and is less about what the Penguins do.

“We went for 64 games and never lost back to back. Just cruising along, life’s good,” Babcock said. “I think in pro sports sometimes you get called out and you have to dig in. We’ve been called out. We got to dig in.”

The Red Wings were the last team in the league to lose back-to-back games in regulation, dropping consecutive games to Calgary (March 6) and Boston (March 8). Now they’re on the verge of maybe losing a third straight game today following losses to Columbus and Philadelphia.

“Things I knew before, no matter what happened we played with great structure, we competed and kept coming,” Babcock said. “In the last five games can you say any of that? None of it. So who are we? Are we the team that played 64 times or the team that played these last five? I like the 64 times.”

Rookie Petr Mrazek will get his first NHL start since in more than a month when he allowed four goals in two periods of action in Pittsburgh. Babcock indicated that Stephen Weiss is a healthy scratch for the third time in the last four games. The Wings’ coach said he’ll wait until after warmups to decide between playing Daniel Cleary or Tomas Jurco at right wing on the fourth line.

“I don’t know exactly yet,” Babcock said. “I got to wait to talk to the trainers. So after warmup I’ll decide. Stephen Weiss is out, one of Dan Cleary or Jurco is in. That’s the only changes.”

Jurco did not play in Philadelphia. He was struck under his visor by a stick in the first period of Thursday’s game against Columbus, and needed several stitches to close a cut to his right eyelid.

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