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Wings look to improve power play

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Special teams play will be front and center again when the Red Wings face the Sharks tonight at HP Pavilion.

The Wings are well aware that the power play and penalty-kill must improve if they’re to have any success, especially against big, physical teams like the Sharks.

“It's not good enough. Your power play has to be better. Your penalty kill has to be better; I like our penalty kill way more than the stats,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

Not since the start of the season has the Wings’ power play been so lethargic. In their last four games – though they posted a 3-1-0 record – the power play is scoreless in the last 10 periods, going 0-for-18 in that stretch.

“Our power play, flat out, you just got to wear people out,” Babcock said. “To me a good power play is when you go out and win the faceoff and you shoot and shoot and shoot, put the next group out, they shoot and shoot and shoot, faceoff. That to me is a power play, not this one-and-done and working on your breakout scheme.”

Babcock pointed to Tuesday’s 2-1 loss at St. Louis and the Wings’ atrocious effort where the power play was 0-for-6 registering just six shots in 15-minutes, including a 5-minute stretch when the Blues’ Chris Stewart received a game-misconduct for his illegal hit on Niklas Kronwall.

A good power play begins with puck-possession and winning the initial faceoff in the offensive zone, something else the Wings struggled with against the Blues, winning just 3-of-14 power-play faceoffs.

“We’re just going to forget the game that we just played in St. Louis and begin to play like we did during the homestand that we had,” Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “Maybe the power play wasn’t really clicking (at home), but I think we did a lot of good things and we just have to keep doing that and keep working. So many little things go into whether or not a puck is going to go in, that you have to keep going.”

Something that may favor the Wings is that they’re facing the Sharks’ 28th ranked penalty-kill unit, which has allowed 13 goals on 53 opportunities. However, in the last week Sharks coach Todd McLellan instituted a new 1-3 trap that simplifies San Jose’s approach as attacking teams come through the neutral zone. In their last two games, the Sharks’ penalty-kill is 6-for-6.

“We hope that we’re going the right direction,” McLellan told the San Jose Mercury-News, “but that’s a pretty good power play we’re going to face on Thursday.”

But the Wings must get production from their offensive big guns, Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who are still seeking their first power-play goals of the season.

“We need to score,” Datsyuk said. “We lose lots of energy when we shoot, they release and we come back to break out.”
Brendan Smith wasn’t sure Wednesday if he’d be in tonight’s lineup when the Sharks host the Red Wings at HP Pavilion. But he was quite anxious following Wednesday’s practice when he was paired with defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

“I don't really know. I haven't been told that. I think so,” Smith said. “As of now I was in the lineup with Kronwall so I think so. I haven't really been told anything.”

The 22-year-old defenseman, who was the Wings’ first-round draft pick in 2007, is cautiously hopeful that he’ll make his NHL debut on the Wings’ trip through California this week. But said the anticipation has been a little overwhelming.

“I think the emotions are all of the above, excited, a little nervous, anxious,” he said. “The thing is, when I was up as a Black Ace I got to watch us play the Sharks, it was an unbelievable series.”

Chances are that Smith will be in tonight’s lineup, but coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday that he’d make a decision this morning.

“He's got to play, we got to find out. There's no better place than here,” said Babcock of Smith. “It's always a good building to play in. We had him with Kronwall (Wednesday), so that means he'd be in a matchup either with (Joe) Thornton and (Patrick) Marleau, if it's (like) the last game or next game, depending on what they do, Thornton or (Logan) Couture. Those are six real good forwards you'll be playing against, so good for him."
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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