Red Wings focus on improving power play, scoring

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Glendale, Ariz. — A couple of games beyond the halfway point of their season, the Red Wings have scored four fewer goals (106) than they have allowed (110), entering play Thursday.

Only one other team holding the top three spots in the four divisions had fewer goals than goals against — their opponents Thursday, the surging, upstart Coyotes (120-127)

The Wings also have the fewest goals of any of those 12 top-three teams, including four less than the far slower, physical and often defensively minded Kings.

Along with improving the power play, which is obviously part of the lagging offensive output, the Wings want to score more, generally. An improved performance in both would go a long way toward solidifying their playoff positioning, and perhaps even move them up in the seeding to help accomplish their often-repeated goal, a deeper run than in the past five seasons.

Part of it is improving also on the penalty kill, even with ace penalty killer Drew Miller (torn meniscus) on the shelf for several weeks, to tamp down the goals against.

The diminished power play has a long history in some respects. Losing Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, terrific quarterbacks from the blue line, in consecutive seasons, five and six years ago, started it.

Jim Hiller, Mike Babcock’s assistant coach last season, seemed to mend a number of issues, and the Wings finished second on the power play, at 23.81 percent (Capitals 25.32).

Heading into play Thursday night, the Wings were on a 6-for-40 stretch, or 15 percent.

“I wouldn’t just say power play,” Blashill said. “I would say specialty teams. I think we can be better at both.

“That’s one area where, when we look at the next half of the season, we need to be in a better spot than we are right now, at the end of the year, to be the team we want to be.

“Sometimes that’s making changes in your personnel, and sometimes it’s staying with what you’re doing and just getting better.”

On the power play, at present, Blashill has chosen to stick with what he has and seek improvement.

“We’ve looked at chances for per 10 minutes on the power play, and it’s ebbed and flowed a little bit,” he said.

“But the last little bit hasn’t been any worse than it was. In fact, it’s been a little better than it has been in other parts of the year.”

Blashill has started joking with the media about the number of times he talks about “the process” and uses an evaluation of it to guide his thoughts about the performance of the team in almost all areas.

But important things get mentioned repeatedly when they are part of the fundamentals of any sport, and Blashill likes the process on the power play, mostly, right now.

“Power play is a real important thing to judge on the process, because if you just judge it on pure results in terms of goals, you can make mistakes,” he said.

“You can actually make it worse by making changes when you don’t need to.

“If you’re getting the shots we were the other night (against the Kings), if you’re getting the (offensive) zone turns, if you’re getting entry level that we’ve had, you’re going to score over time.”

Blashill said that halfway through the year, the power play has not been good enough.

“I get that, 100 percent. But I do think if we have power plays like we had the other night, we’ll score.”

At full strength, the Red Wings are doing OK. They had 71 goals for and 62 goals against, before playing the Coyotes.

It certainly is not the blitzkrieg offense of the seasons before the salary cap, or the departure of Lidstrom and Rafalski.

“I’m fairly happy with it, but we want to continue to get better,” he said.

“I can’t answer the rest of the goal differential, except that we’ve had real tight games. We haven’t had many empty-net goals for. We’ve given up some empty-net goals against, certainly.”

At the start of the year, there were issues with faceoffs, puck control, shots on goal and offense generated from the defensemen.

The return of Pavel Datsyuk and Mike Green’s improved play, after a couple of injuries that delayed his transition to the Wings in his first season after leaving the Capitals, helped.

Although the 37 year-old Datsyuk is not often flashing the speed and deceptiveness of his earlier career since his return from ankle surgery, he immediately improved the faceoffs and puck control.

The Wings also got more shots on net, although that trend is down, again, recently.

“More offensive zone time is probably the number one thing,” Blashill said, of what is required of the team’s play to yield more shots.

“We haven’t had as many stretches of real O-zone time like we did for that, I’d say from the 15 or 10 games ago mark. We had tons of O-zone time.

“We talked about it today,” the coach said, after practice in Scottsdale on Wednesday.