Wings' penalty kill 'great' while power play goes cold

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – One unit cannot get any better, at least not statistically. The other unit, well, it needs to get a lot better.

Through five games, the Red Wings' penalty kill unit is perfect, killing off 17 straight power-play chances. In the two victories against the Maple Leafs over the weekend, the Wings killed off seven penalties, allowing just six shots total.

On the other side of the special teams ledger, though, the Wings power-play unit has been mostly impotent, scoring twice in 21 chances. Both goals by Gustav Nyquist.

"Our PK has been great," coach Mike Babcock said after the 1-0 overtime win Saturday. "It's worked real hard and gotten good goaltending. Guys were organized. I thought our power play was ugly early, but I thought it got going and we had some quality chances.

"We have to get our power play going here this week and I think we will. We've got the capability to do it. We're doing lots of good things. We're just not getting any results."

The Wings had 7:25 of 5-on-4 power-play time Saturday and fired six shots on goalie Jonathan Bernier. But, as has been the case through the early going this season, the best scoring chances were thwarted by errant shots.

On a third-period chance, Nyquist corralled a rebound at the side of the net and had Bernier out of position, but his shot missed on the short side. In the second period, Tomas Jurco also shot wide of an apparent open net.

"I thought we created some real good chances," Nyquist said. "I had a couple chances I should have put the puck in the net. I thought it was overall good."

Nyquist believes the cold statistics, 2 for 21, don't tell the whole story of how the power-play unit has played.

"I don't think we struggled, to be honest with you," he said. "We created a lot of chances, just didn't put the puck in the net. But the power play was good."

Certainly it will be better once Pavel Datsyuk (shoulder) returns to the lineup. Darren Helm, normally a third-line center, has been playing on the top power-play unit in Datsyuk's absence. The Wings were also without Johan Franzen (groin), a key member of the first power-play unit, on Saturday. Justin Abdelkader and Stephen Weiss, playing in his first game since early last season, got time on the top unit.

There are no such issues with the penalty killers. Under the direction of assistant coach Tony Granato, Drew Miller, Abdelkader, Luke Glendening, Joakim Andersson, and defensemen Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson have been rock solid.

"I thought in preseason and through training camp we got it together and it feels like we trust each other," said goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who was the beneficiary of the PK unit's smothering play Saturday. "We have a good system going. We can always improve, but so far it's been great."

The system isn't radically different than the one the Wings used the last two seasons when they finished 12th in the league in killing penalties. But with the speed and tenaciousness of the players – particularly Abdelkader, Glendening, DeKeyser and Smith – Granato has been able to turn up the aggressiveness.

"It's similar but we're just being way more aggressive this year," Glendening said. "I think that's the biggest difference. We're being aggressive up the ice, aggressive in the zone and that's the biggest difference."

Case in point: Short-handed early in the third period of a scoreless game Saturday, normally a time to be conservative and look after your own zone, the Wings were in full-attack mode. Glendening's forecheck led to a great scoring chance for Abdelkader.

The 2009-10 season was the last the Wings ranked in the top 10 in penalty killing. They were 10th that year, killing off 83.9 percent of opposing team's power-play chances.

"I think we're getting more comfortable in our system," Glendening said. "I think (Friday night) we had a few breakdowns that let a few opportunities go by and they didn't score. Sometimes our goalie has to be our best penalty killer.

"But I thought tonight we were pretty good."