CHICAGO – In Game 7 against Anaheim the Red Wings split up Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, giving the top two lines a different look.
The strategy worked.
At Wednesday’s morning skate, the Red Wings implemented a new-look to their first power play unit, which they hope will propel them past the Chicago Blackhawks and into the Western Conference finals.
“We tried it out in practice,” said forward Justin Abdelkader, who is on the first unit. “We'll see what happens in the game, if that stays or not. If it goes, we just got to shoot pucks and get second chances and break them down. Power plays always start with the shot, we got to make sure we're shooting and getting pucks back and taking it to the net.”
The Red Wings know that the power play will be critical to the outcome of tonight’s game at the United Center. The power play is 1-for-22 in the series against the Blackhawks.
The maneuvering worked in Anaheim as the top six forwards accounted for every goal in a 3-2 win at the Honda Center, sending the Red Wings to the Western Conference semifinals. Now, like the first round, the Wings are facing another Game 7, though this time against the top-seeded Blackhawks, who have allowed just one power-play goal in the postseason.
Getting shots to the net and puck retrieval are crucial to the success of any power play, and coach Mike Babcock would like to be more consistent.
“Our biggest thing in this series on our power play is their 'four go.' That's when a puck is shot and it's on the wall and they got four guys going,” Babcock said. “Our power play retrieval part of it hasn't been good enough. So their four guys are working harder than our power play to get it back. If you're one-and-done your power play's not very good because there's no skills play happening, you're just shooting and they break and they fire it down and you work on your breakout. That's a lot of exercise. It's way more fun wearing them out in their zone.”
Should the Wings decide to stick with the new power play look – which had Datsyuk and Johan Franzen playing kind of out on the half wall near the blue line, Niklas Kronwall in the middle, and Zetterberg and Abdelkeder down low – it won’t be for the element of surprise.
“We felt we needed to do (it) because of the way the series went (in Anaheim),” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ve been through all those scenarios, that’s what I do before every game, if they do that, what are we going to do? If we do that, what are they going to do?
“Like the start of last game they pulled (Jonathan) Toews off the ice every single time they won the faceoffs so they could do that. If you don’t win the faceoff you can’t do that. Chicago has a different kind of lineup than Anaheim had, so you have to use your players that will give you the best chance to win and that’s what we’re going to do here tonight. I’ve been through every kind of scenario.”
The Wings’ lone power-play goal came in Game 4 when Jakub Kindl scored with one-second remaining in a Toews penalty. And since the power play hasn’t gotten anything going for the Wings, expect them to pull out all of the stops in Game 7 tonight, especially on the power play.
“You know, try a different look and see if that’s going to happen in the game as well,” Kronwall said. “But it felt pretty good in practice and we’ll see where it leads.”
ORIGINAL SIX FINALE: Defenseman Brendan Smith grew-up in Toronto, so he knows all about the tradition and history of the Original Six teams. With the Red Wings scheduled to move to the Eastern Conference next season, Smith knows the special meaning to tonight’s Game 7 between the Red Wings and Blackhawks.
“To be a part of it is really cool,” Smith said. “To have this Game 7 makes it that much more awesome, so I think it’s something that everybody will be jacked up for.”
Growing-up in Muskegon, Michigan, halfway between the two cities, Abdelkader said he has fond memories of the Detroit-Chicago rivalry.
“It was rough, a lot different when I was a kid,” he said. “The Proberts, McCartys, Kocurs, it was fun. All you have to do is look at the jerseys, Original Six, two of the best jerseys in the league. Just the tradition and what each organization is about, every time you put on the jersey you take pride in it.”
Tonight’s game will be the 806th all-time meeting – and 81st in the playoffs – between the two NHL franchises that began in 1926. But instead of playing six times a season as division foes, the Red Wings and Blackhawks will only meet up twice in the new divisional alignments.
“Travel-wise it’s going to be good, it just makes so much sense,” Abdelkader said. “But it’s going to be a bummer not coming here three or four times a year.”
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