Babcock alters power-play unit, stresses attack

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — If this was a coincidence, then it was a most fortuitous one.

There, in the locker room Tuesday, minutes after the Red Wings spent a good portion of their 45-minute practice working on its struggling power play, was Tomas Holmstrom, one of the best power-play performers in franchise history.

Asked if Holmstrom was the new power-play coach, head coach Mike Babcock laughed.

“That wouldn’t be a bad idea,” he said. “But he wanted to move home (to Sweden). I already offered him that.”

In his 15 seasons with the Wings, Holmstrom scored 122 of his 243 career goals on power plays. That’s third-best in team history. Though he was only visiting Tuesday — his kids are on a break from school in Sweden — he has seen enough of the Wings this season to know exactly what’s been ailing the power play.

“You know how it is, it goes up and down,” Holmstrom said. “What is it, two goals? We’ve been there; I’ve been there. To be successful, you cannot be one-and-done. You need to get the puck to the net and usually when you get the puck to the net and get it back, and you get to start all over, then something happens.

“You shoot it, get it back and do it again. That’s when it opens up.”

That has been Babcock’s message the last week or longer — get more pucks to the net and get more second and third chances. The Wings are 2 for 30 this season and have gone empty in the last 20 chances on the power play.

“Just attack more,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said, reiterating Holmstrom’s message. “Throw more pucks at the net. Make sure the puck gets there. If it doesn’t get there, there’s not a lot of good things coming. Make sure pucks get to the net. I know we talk about it every day and I am sure you guys are sick of hearing it. But it really is that simple.”

Babcock, as he hinted, altered the power-play lineup. He put Gustav Nyquist back up on the first unit with Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Justin Abdelkader and Kronwall.

Two games ago, Babcock dropped Nyquist to the second unit, where he would theoretically get more touches and shots. Now back with the top unit, Nyquist’s responsibilities will be more as a puck retriever than a primary shooter.

Asked if it was a tough decision to take Nyquist, the team’s leading goal scorer with four, out of a primary shooting role, Babcock said, “Huge. But when you are scrambling, sometimes you’ve got to do things. Like, I thought it was a real good idea when we took him away (from the top unit), and we haven’t got anything to go.

“So we’ve got to attack the net. I just thought those are the guys who’ve been scoring for us. Put ‘em in scoring positions and see what happens.”

It’s a double-edged deal for Nyquist. He loves being the primary shooter, but it would be foolish to complain about playing third fiddle to Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

“Now I'm with Hank and Pav and I'm going to be the guy in the middle, trying to retrieve a lot of pucks and get the puck back to those guys for them to make plays,” he said. “And obviously be ready to shoot when I get in the middle.

“We all have to have different jobs on the power play, obviously, but we want to work together at the same time. As a power play we can be interchangeable and stuff like that. Right now we're just trying to find a way to score goals — hopefully it starts tomorrow."

Nyquist had a good, long chat with Holmstrom on Tuesday, hoping maybe some of that old Homer magic might rub off.

“He was more of a net-front guy, but he was just unbelievable at tipping pucks,” Nyquist said. “I remember my first year when I played with him a little bit, too. After practice he didn't miss a tip when the D-men were taking shots.

“It was great seeing him. He's a funny guy who brings a lot of joy when he comes in. He's a fun guy to be around."