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Wings' penalty kill gains momentum

by Michelle Crechiolo / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – With only 11 games remaining in the regular-season, the Red Wings have added an element of desperation to their game.

That desperation has manifested itself in their penalty kill, which has not allowed a power play goal in the past eight games.

Detroit has killed 24 consecutive power plays by the opposition, and 52 of the last 55 attempts for a 94.5 percent success rate. The Wings currently rank ninth in the NHL with an 83.5 percent success rate, compared to finishing 25th overall last season.

The Wings’ ability to keep the puck out of the net when they’re shorthanded is crucial to gaining momentum, especially in games like their last four. Two of those went to overtime, one went to a shootout, and one was decided with just over a minute left.

The Wings need every point they can get if they’re to make the postseason for the 19th consecutive time, and the players who are counted on to kill off penalties know how important their role is at such a crucial point of the campaign.

“I think everyone who’s been killing realizes how important it is,” forward Darren Helm said, who among the league leaders in shorthanded goals, with three.

“I think myself and everybody who’s on that kill appreciates being on there and understands the responsibilities it takes,” he said. “We’re fighting for a playoff spot, so a little extra motivation and extra determination to make sure that puck’s not going in your net plays a big role, a big factor into your job out there as well.”

Surprisingly, Helm doesn’t feel any added pressure when he’s out there battling the opposing team’s top guns, saying, “I enjoy (the penalty kill) and I think everyone else does as well.”

Forward Drew Miller, another go-to guy while shorthanded, also embraces his role, because it allows him the opportunity to contribute while giving the Wings’ stars a chance to regroup.

“Me, (Patrick) Eaves, Helm, we’re young guys that are trying to contribute to the team anyway we can,” Miller said. “Penalty kill is the one area we can really help the team. We block shots, work really hard. We take pride in that because our big guys are trying to score on the power play, and we’re trying to prevent it on the penalty kill. It evens out when they don’t have to play as many minutes; they have more energy to play offensively.”

While the Wings understand all of the intangibles that are required for a successful penalty kill, they also have mastered the fundamentals that make it work.

“I think we’re staying together as a four-man unit out there,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Trying to make (Jimmy Howard) see the puck, take the first shot, and then we all move from there.”

Miller agrees with his teammate, saying the fact that they’ve bought into coach Mike Babcock’s system is a big reason for their success.

“Not one guy’s doing anything different,” Miller said. “It’s just we’re all working together as a group of five, with Howie back there. I mean, forwards are blocking shots, the ‘D’ are making it hard on their forwards and getting the puck out, and Howie’s making the saves that we need. So I think just the system that we’re playing, we’re buying into it and we’re all working hard.”

The Wings hope to continue their success rate Monday against Pittsburgh’s mediocre power play. The Penguins rank 22nd, scoring only 17 percent of the time with a man advantage despite the presence of superstars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

INJURY UPDATE: Babcock confirmed that Eaves will sit out a second straight game on Monday after sustaining a sore neck and back from a hit on Friday at Edmonton.

Dan Cleary, also injured in the third period of Friday’s game, will miss Monday’s game in order to rest a sore groin.

They both hope to play Wednesday.

Defenseman Brad Stuart, one of three Red Wings to play in all 71 games, was missing from Monday’s morning skate and is questionable to play against the Penguins with an undisclosed injury. Babcock said he would be a game-time decision.

If Stuart does not play, Derek Meech will move to forward and both defensemen Jonathan Ericsson and Brett Lebda will dress.

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