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Third periods have become huge concern

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Buffalo's Johan Larsson is all smiles after his third-period goal proved to be the game winner for the Sabres Monday night in Detroit. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Blowing third-period leads has reached epidemic levels for the Red Wings.

The 2-1 loss to Buffalo on Monday was significantly more painful since the Wings failed to pick up a point for the first time in 14 games.

“It’s a huge concern because a lot of these games are one-goal games and when we’re up we want to be able to put teams away, try and fight to get that next goal,” Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. “Usually if you get that next goal you get a two-goal lead and late in games you pretty much seal it. We just got to do a better job of not sitting back on our heels and pushing back on teams.”

The Red Wings have squandered nine third-period leads in the past 14 games.

Monday was disappointing because Detroit had its chances to take a two-goal lead, first, on a penalty-shot opportunity by Tomas Jurco, and again with a power play early in the third.

“Those are the chances,” said Niklas Kronwall, who quarterbacks the Wings’ top power play unit. “When you get the opportunity you have to make sure that you really bear down and really get something out of it. … If you get 2-nothing there – I’m not going to say that you’re putting the game away – but you’re definitely making it harder for them.

“We’ve had a few of those opportunities that we’ve squandered here – really all season if you look at it.”

Detroit has been out-scored in the third period, 31-21, this season. Only Pittsburgh (20) and Philadelphia (18) has scored fewer third-period goals.

The problem facing the Wings is that third-period collapses like Monday have almost become predictable.

“The other team’s going to be pushing hard and pressing for that next goal, so you just got to be ready and prepared for that team to come out strong and put pucks on net,” Abdelkader said. “I didn’t think we necessarily turned the puck over, I don’t think we spent a lot of time in their zone. We got to do a better job of that and a better job of late in games of just executing.”

The Wings continue their four-game homestand before the Christmas break on Friday when the Vancouver Canucks come to town on their only regular-season visit of the season.

While Wednesday afternoon’s practice at Joe Louis Arena was optional, all the players participated in off-ice workouts led by team trainer Mike Kadar.

Assistant coach Tony Granato said the off-ice work was on the calendar to boost the players’ conditioning and strength.

Granato oversaw Wednesday’s practice, filling in for coach Jeff Blashill, who was in Cleveland to see the Grand Rapids Griffins face-off against Lake Erie.

“It was get-better day,” Granato said. “Mike Kadar is real big on making sure the conditioning and the weight training is something we’re able to maintain and this was one of those days where we were able to get full workouts off the ice and we had an optional skate to work on some of the things we wanted to work on.”

CITIZEN KANE: As an assistant in Pittsburgh, Granato had a front-row seat to see Sidney Crosby’s 25-game points streak in 2010.

Five years later, the former NHL player says Patrick Kane’s 26-game points streak that came to an end Tuesday, is even more remarkable.

“Today’s game it seems the defense, the goaltending, the specialty teams penalty killing wise makes it more challenging to put together a streak like that,” Granato said. “You’ve got to really look at it and say you just saw something that’s not going to happen very often going forward. He’s a phenomenal offensive talent and I think what he just did in the past month and a half shows that he’s an elite player.”

Kronwall concurs.

“You just tip your hat. It’s so impressive,” he said. “I don’t know if people realize how hard that is what he just accomplished. It’s very impressive in this day and age, especially when people keep talking about how hard it is to score and he’s been finding ways to get points in 26 games. That is an unbelievable accomplishment.”

Kane’s 26-game streak ended Chicago lost 3-0 to the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center. It’s the longest such points streak since Quebec’s Mats Sundin produced 46 points in 30 straight games in 1992-93.

Considering these numbers, Kronwall says Kane’s accomplishment is even more astonishing: the NHL averaged 7.3 goals per game when Sundin’s streak reached 30 games. This season, the league is averaging 5.2 goals per contest.

“It’s a lot to do with how teams play different,” Kronwall said. “I think the game has changed … a lot to be honest with you since the lockout there in ’04-05. The game is a lot faster. I think if you just look how teams, how people block shots now compared to back then, it’s a little bit different. So I think teams are playing differently and it is definitely getting harder than it was 10, 12 years ago to score.”

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