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Zidlicky gives Wings right-handed punch

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings
Marek Zidlicky returns to the playoffs after missing out the previous two seasons. Acquired at the trade deadline, the 38-year-old hopes past experiences can bring the Red Wings current success during this playoff run. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT — The move to acquire Marek Zidlicky at the trade deadline was intended for the late push to make the playoffs and a run through the Eastern Conference.

A seasoned veteran as well as a right-handed shot, Zidlicky has valuable assets needed for the Red Wings to make some noise in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the 38-year-old is excited to be back in the postseason.

“Especially with my age, it’s a nice experience again,” Zidlicky said. “I’m so happy to be in the playoffs again and feel that the pressure, it’s a great feeling.”

In his 12th season, Zidlicky has made it to the playoffs five times and only made it out of the first round once. However, that one trip was part of the New Jersey Devils’ run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2012, where they fell in a six-game series to the Los Angeles Kings.

Zidlicky was an integral part of the Devils’ playoff push, leading the team in ice time averaging 23:46 per game and was second among New Jersey defensemen in points with nine, four of which came on the power play.

“The playoffs is different than regular season,” he said. “You have to stay focused like 60 minutes, every shift because it’s important you don’t have the next day to fix it. So it’s very tough, it’s very tough and you have to stay focused.”

Zidlicky is familiar with the grind of the postseason, having played all 24 games of that run to the 2012 finals. That same year, he experienced the Game 7, win or go home against the Florida Panthers. He produced in big games posting back-to-back multi-point games in Game 5 and Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Philadelphia. In the conference finals and Cup finals, Zidlicky averaged 22:55 of ice time down the stretch including three games that needed overtime.

“That was a few years ago I was in the finals,” he said. “Pretty nice experience for me and for Jersey and I think for everybody, every player. I learned a lot of stuff, so I try to bring it here and you’re going day by day, every game you try to be ready and that’s what it is.”

While Zidlicky may not be required to play as many minutes as his did in 2012, the native of Most, Czech Republic, will be called upon to play important minutes on the power play.

“The coaches doesn’t want to change just want me to do my job,” he said. “And I try to do my best every time, every power play and every game. It’s a short time to change something.”

In 21 games with the Wings, Zidlicky scored three power-play goals including a game-winning goal on the man advantage in his first game against the New York Rangers. Zidlicky anchors the second power-play unit as the lone defenseman and a right-handed shot from the point. He’s produced 11 points since coming to Detroit, all of which have come on the man advantage.

“He’s been huge for us,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Like you said, extremely, extremely good on the power play, taking the right decisions, making the right plays, great shot. He’s been great for us ever since he got here.”

Much was made about the Wings’ lack of a right-handed shot in the lineup to start the season, as center Luke Glendening was the lone righty on the roster. However, the emergence of Teemu Pulkkinen and the recent call-up of defenseman Alexey Marchenko have increased the number of righties in the locker room.

Marchenko — a 23-year-old rookie who has played 13 games with the Wings this season — along with the right-handed Zidlicky bring an important balance to the blue line and the team’s defensive pairs.

Zidlicky is slated to skate alongside left-handed Kyle Quincey while Marchenko is expected to skate with another lefty in Danny DeKeyser.

“I think I can be pretty good defensively,” Marchenko said. “Help the team defensively, be smart in the O-zone, don’t make mistakes, just make strong plays and make a good first pass to start the break out.”

Having two pairs of defensemen with both a left- and a right-handed shot on the left and right sides of the ice respectively allows them to transition with greater ease when making D-to-D passes in all three zones of the rink.

It’s something that coach Mike Babcock used when he coached Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal in the Sochi Games.

It also helps offensively when picking up pucks from off the boards. A right-handed shot on the right side of the ice can corral a puck from along the kick plate and move pucks towards the net or towards teammates quickly. A left-handed shot in a similar situation would have to collect the puck on his backhand and then move the puck to his forehand before being able to go on the offensive.

“It can only help you,” Kronwall said. “It’s a little bit easier for a right-hander to play on the right side than a left-hander, so I think that will definitely help us.”

Discussed at length for much of the season, Babcock now has two viable defensive pairs with opposing shots heading into the playoffs. That balance should provide the Wings an ability to transition much quicker and go on the offensive.

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