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Wings are riding puck-possession wave

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Henrik Zetterberg has a team leading 251 faceoff wins this season, though his winning percentage (48.8) ranks fifth on the team. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROITHenrik Zetterberg doesn’t put a lot of stock in the Red Wings recent hot streak in the faceoff circle.

Detroit has won 67.5 percent of faceoffs (79 of 117) over the past two games, though the Red Wings’ captain does prescribe to the centermen’s motto of if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.

“It’s basically the guy who gets away with the most cheating wins. That’s how faceoffs are right now,” said Zetterberg, who leads the Wings with 251 face-off wins. “If you’re a good cheater you’re a good faceoff man.”

The Red Wings rank No. 14 in league faceoffs at 50.5 percent. They had their two best faceoff games of the season over the weekend, winning 64.5 percent against Vancouver on Friday, and a whopping 70.9 percent against Calgary on Sunday.

Sunday’s totals (39-55) is the Wings highest output since last December when they won 42-of-59 draws (71.2 percent) in a 4-1 loss at Toronto.

“I think faceoffs is just one of those things where either you do have it or you don’t have it,” Zetterberg said. “As a centerman if you win the first couple of faceoffs, you get in a good groove and you get confidence. The other guy will probably start thinking a little bit. I think that’s basically what it is. Sometimes too, there’s a lot of 50/50 pucks and if the wingers are able to get those (it’s a faceoff win). If you start with the puck it’s a lot easier. But I don’t really have any recipe why you win and why you lose. Some nights you have it.”

This year, linemen are cracking down more and tossing the habitual cheaters out of the circle, but Zetterberg says that’s where centermen are getting craftier.

“The biggest difference this year is that in your own end you have to put your stick down first,” Zetterberg said. “I think if you’re the offensive man you have an advantage if you have to put your stick down last. That’s the biggest difference. I think you just have to cheat a little more. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don’t.”

The way coach Jeff Blashill sees it, winning between 45 and 55 percent of the draws doesn’t correlate to wins and losses in the standings. But what he does like is that the Red Wings’ special team units are in the top 10 in faceoff efficiency.

Detroit is No. 8 in shorthanded faceoff wins and No. 10 in power play faceoff wins.

“Faceoffs on specialty teams are critical,” Blashill said. “If you want to have a great power play you have to start with the puck in the zone. If you want to have a good penalty kill, you win it and clear it out. I think that’s where it’s most critical and when it’s really one more or the other that’s when it can hurt you.”

Detroit has been above the 50 percent benchmark in six of nine games this month (5-1-3).

Jonathan Ericsson
Defense  - DET
Goals: 1 | Assists: 4 | Pts: 5
Shots: 28 | +/-: 7
IFFY ON BIG E: Jonathan Ericsson skated in Monday’s practice, but his availability for Tuesday’s final game before the Christmas break is anything but certain.

“I don’t think there’s a decision taken yet, so we’ll see tomorrow,” Ericsson said.

The Red Wings’ defenseman suffered an upper-body injury midway through the third period of Friday’s game against Vancouver.

“In the third period sometime, I think maybe halfway into the third,” Ericsson said. “It got worse as the game went on, and worse the day after.”

Ericsson missed Sunday’s win against Calgary. The 6-foot-4 defenseman had played in 114 straight games for the Red Wings.

Blashill said it’s doubtful that Ericsson will play Tuesday, but he’ll wait until after Tuesday’s morning skate to make a decision on his defensive pairings.

“We’re going to make that decision tomorrow,” Blashill said. “We still want to talk about some things to make sure.”

With a three-day break coming up after Tuesday’s game, Ericsson agreed that it might be best to get the extra rest instead of rushing back too soon.

“That will be one of the considerations that we’re gonna have to talk about tomorrow (with team trainers),” he said. “We’ve been dealing with this kind of stuff for so many years so they probably know better than me. I’ll just talk to them and we’ll see where we go from there.”

Jimmy Howard
Goalie  - DET
Record: 7-4-4
GAA: 2.33 | Sv%: .922
TUESDAY STARTER: Blashill has alternated starts between his goalie – Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek – this month, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll alter from that formula when the Red Wings host the New Jersey Devils for the first and only time this season on Tuesday.

But following Monday’s practice, Blashill wasn’t revealing his starter.

If the trend is to continue, that means Howard is due to make his 16th start of the season. The 31-year-old veteran is 7-4-4 with a 2.33 goals-against average. He’s also faced the Devils more than Mrazek.

In six career starts against the Devils, including one earlier in the month, Howard has posted a 3-2-1 record with a 2.16 GAA with a .909 save percentage.

Callahan

CALLAHAN’S LUCK: It hasn’t been two years since Mitch Callahan’s selfie taken moments after he was struck in the mouth with a puck during an AHL game went viral.

The puck did tremendous damage to Callahan, who lost 10 teeth and sustained a broken jaw.

Well, last Friday, bad luck returned as the 24-year-old forward suffered another broken jaw when he was hit in the face by a puck during the Griffins’ practice at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.

“It’s almost heartbreaking because he’s such a good kid. He’s a great person,” said Blashill, who coached Callahan for three season in Grand Rapids. “Heartbreaking is a strong word because he’s got lots left in him. He’ll get on his feet again, pick himself up and go at it. Two real unfortunate incidents getting hit in the mouth and breaking your jaw. He was playing great hockey last year when he hurt his knee that’s really, really unfortunate for a great person and has worked real hard.”

Callahan underwent surgery to insert a metal plate and wire his jaws shut. He will be out of the Griffins lineup for an undetermined amount of time.

Callahan has played in one NHL game with the Red Wings, making his debut during the 2013-14 season.

CONSULTING OATES: Former Red Wings forward and Hockey Hall of Famer Adam Oates finished his three-day consulting visit with Red Wings coaches and front-office personnel over the weekend.

Oates, who started his 19-season NHL playing career with the Red Wings in 1985, observed the Wings’ home games against Vancouver and Calgary.

When it comes to making improvements, Blashill has always welcomed input from those around him. When he was in Grand Rapids, Blashill often consulted with former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

Oates brought with him a different perspective, which, Blashill said isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But don’t expect the Wings to immediately implement anything the coaching staff learned from Oates’ visit.

“I’m not a copy and paste guy. I want to take it in. I want to think about it,” Blashill said. “I don’t just take the things he says and apply it. I want to make sure it makes sense to me. I didn’t know him at all. We didn’t come up through the same ranks. Me and Babs think a lot alike. (Oates) thinks way different. He’s an offensive mind so I think it was good to get some of those ideas. We’ll discuss as a staff … e might not use them today but it might help us a few months from now.”

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