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Wings' power play picks up pace

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings' Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall discuss strategy before beginning a two-minute power play against the Coyotes last Saturday at Gila River Arena. (Photo by Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – Since October when the power play exceedingly struggled, the two separate units have been a vehicle for success that continues to improve with each passing week.

“Right now we’re happy, our power play is doing good,” said Tomas Tatar, who has scored seven power-play goals this season. “We didn’t have a good start, now we’ve figured it out. I hope it’s going to continue, but you never know.”

The Wings own the league’s best power play at 25.2 percent rate (48-for-188). Their total goals are just two shy from matching the power-play output from last season when it finished No. 18 (50-for-282) in the league.

Since Dec. 23 when the power play struck for a season-best four goals against Buffalo, the Wings have been on an incredible roll, going 20-for-61 on the man advantage – that’s an impressive 32.8 percent success rate.

“We know the way the game is played nowadays some nights there’s not a lot of offense created off five on five,” said Niklas Kronwall, who quarterbacks the team’s first PP unit. “A lot of it’s going to be off specialty teams, so if you can win that battle then more than often you’re going to be in a good shape. That was the outcome the last three nights and that’s what changed the games.”

Tonight, the Wings will look to extend a unique power-play streak when they face-off against the Penguins at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center. Detroit’s special team has struck first in each of the past three games – all wins – giving the Wings momentum-building leads against the New York Islanders, Colorado and Arizona on goals by Tatar, Justin Abdelkader and Riley Sheahan, respectively.

The Red Wings are 18-4-6 when scoring first this season. But Detroit is 10-3-3 when its first goal of the game has come on the power play, including 3-0-0 since Jan. 31.

In five of the past 10 games, the Wings have struck first with either a power-play or short-handed goal, giving them tremendous momentum. Special teams managed to strike first just six times in the first 42 games of the season – all on the power play.

Since late December, the Wings seem to have solidified their two PP units. The top unit with Kronwall (on point), Abdelkader (net front), Gustav Nyquist, Henrik Zetterberg and Stephen Weiss has accounted for 21 goals. Meanwhile, the second unit, which features Tatar, Sheahan, Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm (net front) and Danny DeKeyser (on point), has been equally potent, producing 19 power-play goals.

“When your power play is clicking like it is, both groups are scoring goals, and you feel you’re going to have a good chance out there to score,” Nyquist said. “Right now it’s clicking and we’re getting so many different looks it’s hard for the other team to defend because we have a lot of different set ups out there. It’s really been working for us, but we have to make sure it keeps on working.”

Nyquist has certainly been a benefactor this season, collecting 12 power-play goals, which is second-most in the league behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, who have 15 PPG each.

Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson doesn’t play the power play, but he certainly appreciates what the two units have meant to the Wings lately.

“We have a really dangerous power play right now, so all the confidence in the world with those guys who are doing a great job,” he said. “We’re first in the league and it’s about being consistent. They’re trying different things, they’re talking about plays they’re going to make, but that’s kind of the structure and they go out from there and make their own plays too. Our power play is the best and they’re dangerous every time they’re out there. It’s amazing what the guys are doing out there. The puck just moves so smoothly between those guys some times. It’s ridiculous.”

Aside from the power play, the penalty kill also gave the Wings huge lifts last week, killing off two minor penalties early in each win at Colorado and Arizona before the power play did its thing in the second periods.

“After you’ve already killed off a couple or three (penalties) before you get your first chance and then you score right away, that’s huge,” Nyquist said. “That’s a big boost for the team and you know if you’re on the opposite side it’s tough to have missed two or three opportunities and see the other team score right away. That’s given us some momentum in the last two games.”

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