May 23, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Gregg Krupa

Red Wings must rev up power play to seize series stranglehold

Detroit -- Before they laced them up Wednesday, the Red Wings watched video of all their scoring chances on the power play in the first three games against the Blackhawks.

None produced a goal, and that is the point.

They generate scoring chances against a penalty kill that is perfect, 29-for-29 in the playoffs. But they must convert.

It is a crucial issue in Game 4.

Through three games, the Red Wings have played well and lead the Western Conference semifinals 2-1. But the Blackhawks are an excellent team.

Once they control emotions and stop paying so much attention to what the Red Wings are doing and what the referees are and are not doing, they will play better. Perhaps significantly, so.

When they do, how do the Red Wings lift their game? Score on the power play.

The man who usually arrives at Joe Louis Arena at 7 a.m. and goes directly to his office to start watching video is beating that drum.

"Right now," coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday, "there's no question that our power play needs to be a bigger factor than it's been in the series."

Is it more about what the Blackhawks are doing or what the Red Wings are not doing? And what became of the big improvement during the regular season on the man advantage?

"We talked a lot about our power play," Babcock said. "We've had individual power play meetings, kind of run through and let the guys see what's going on and try to make some adjustments.

"We've had some real good looks and haven't scored yet. But sometimes when you get real good looks and don't score, then you stop shooting."

Presence in front

In case you have not noticed, when the Wings play that pretty game of keep-away with the puck, possessing it and generating movement but few shots, their coach gets that "bird of prey" scowl of his going pretty good behind the bench.

Babcock often figures it this way: Shoot more, go harder to the net and maybe pick up a greasy goal that gets batted in or bounces off a body.

"Let's get a real good net-front presence. Let's pound the puck. Let's get it back. Let's throw it in there," Babcock said.

"Let's create some chaos."

When Brian Rafalski retired in 2011 and Nicklas Lidstrom in 2012, the Red Wings lost two exceptional quarterbacks on the power play.

It declined sharply at the end of 2011-12 and it did not recover through the first half of the truncated 2013 season.

Since about the middle of March, it has vastly improved.

Despite a bad start — awful on the road, actually — the Red Wings finished 15th of 30 teams, scoring 18.4 percent of the time on the power play, including 23.7 percent at home.

Similarly, they are ninth among the 16 playoff teams at 16.2 percent, including 22.7 on the road, but only 6.7 at home.

Robust scoring with the man advantage helped upset the Ducks.

"I think both teams had their chances to score some power play goals, but we haven't really been able to do that," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said of the semifinals. "I think some part is the goaltending. They've been playing really well on both teams.

"But it is going to come down to the special teams. You have to bear down, if you get a chance."

Early in games, Zetterberg said, chances are coming.

"I think later in games, when we have the lead and we get a chance on the power play, we are a little too cautious," he said. "We've just got to be on our toes and keep playing and go for the next goal.

"We've been better on that 5-on-5. Now, we've just got to do it on the power play, too."

Turning it around

The Red Wings point men say they concentrate on getting the puck through.

"Every time I get the puck up on the point, my first thought is to get it through because these days everyone is going down for them," Jakub Kindl said, referring to the growing inclination to block shots on the penalty kill.

"There's not a lot of time to find a hole or get the puck through. You get maybe half-a-second when you have the line and you've just got to take advantage.

"Once the rebound comes, we've just got to be ready for it and bang it in."

Another point man, Brendan Smith, said an additional problem with blocks is that too often they are essentially giveaways.

"You're trying to look for an open area because if you get a shot blocked, it's going the opposite way," Smith said. "You've got to make sure it gets down toward the net or behind the net, because then it's not coming back on us."

The Red Wings were in an 0-for-37 drought on the power play March 13.

Just before that road game against the Flames, almost alone in the dressing room, Smith told a teammate, "I've been thinking, I don't know, I just have this feeling we get one tonight.

"And then they're just going to start going in."

They got one and, sure enough, they started coming easier.

Asked if he has any similar feeling, now, Smith demured.

"I did have that feeling in Calgary and I am hoping we can get one Thursday night," Smith said. "But, their penalty kill has been 100 percent in the playoffs, so it's something we're going to have to crack. A greasy one is going to be the first one that goes in."

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Daniel Cleary has been seeing time on the power play this series. The Red Wings hope to solve the Blackhawks penalty kill tonight. / David Guralnick/Detroit News