Wings focus on scoring to make their move in East

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk (13) says improved scoring will go a long way to helping Detroit make its move in a crowded Eastern Conference.

Detroit — Looking tanned and rested, the Red Wings returned to practice Monday ready for the rest of what should be an interesting second half of the season.

The Red Wings are five points behind division-leading Florida — yet only three points ahead of New Jersey and Pittsburgh, which are tied for the second and final Eastern Conference wild card.

It’s that tight throughout the NHL.

If they’re to separate themselves from the large pack, the Red Wings feel improving their offense will be an important area in which to focus.

“More scoring,” Pavel Datsyuk said of what the Red Wings need these final two months of the season. “We haven’t scored enough. Every game is (close). We need more scoring, it would be a much easier game. Every game is a one-goal game.

“Hockey has changed. Everybody plays more defense. They worry more about defense and less offense.”

The Red Wings are averaging 2.47 goals per game, down from 2.9 at the same juncture last season.

The power play ranks 18th, at a 17.6 percent clip, down from second at this point last season, when it was humming along at 25.1 percent.

But the Red Wings have been able to be successful because of great goaltending from Petr Mrazek, team defense that has been impressive (allowing 2.47 goals per game), and an improving penalty kill (14th, 80.9 percent).

“The focus is playing sound defensively,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “We’ll have games or stretches we maybe don’t score goals. But you have to play good defensively and not give up much. That has to be the focus.

“Offense is hard to come by in this league. But goals will go in for us. The focus obviously is get pucks on net. Our power play can help us, even if it’s not scoring, just generate some chances.”

Larkin excited

Dylan Larkin had a memorable All-Star weekend, setting a record in the fastest-skater competition and seeing the Atlantic Division team reach the finals Sunday of the 3-on-3 All-Star Game format.

“I felt like I a kid, I guess,” Larkin, 19, said of the experience. “Just to break the record, I didn’t see that coming. I tried to skate as fast as I could and it was just worth it to break the record and see the response from the guys.

“All the guys were cool to meet and it was even cooler to see how nice they are and how humble and kind they are. I didn’t meet a bad guy.”

Larkin was glad to see Sunday’s games being as competitive and intense as they were, uncommon for an All-Star Game setting.

“I was hoping it would be like that,” Larkin said. “I’ve never been like that to just glide around or coast.”

Kronwall update

The Red Wings will shift defenseman Niklas Kronwall (knee) from the short- to long-term injured reserve list, meaning he would be eligible to come off in time for the Feb. 14 game against Boston.

Whether Kronwall will be ready to play remains to be seen, but it’ll be close to that date. The Red Wings expect Kronwall to begin skating in practice next week.

“One thing we’ve learned is it’s real hard to throw a guy in when he’s not 100 percent and expect him to play like he’s 100 percent,” Blashill said. “We’ll get him to 100 percent so the long term prognosis is Niklas Kronwall is ready for the remainder of this season and beyond.”

The Red Wings could potentially recall a defenseman from Grand Rapids, if needed, after the American League All-Star break concludes Wednesday.

Ice chips

Riley Sheahan (ill) didn’t skate Monday but Blashill is hopeful Sheahan will be ready to play Wednesday in Tampa Bay.

“We hope Riley is back (Tuesday for practice),” Blashill said. “He’s had an illness, hasn’t felt good for four or five days, so we’ll see what his energy level is and all that.”

... Quite a few Red Wings took the opportunity of having nearly a week off to head for warmer climates. Mrazek went to Miami for a few days, then visited his girlfriend in Atlanta.

“It was great to have some days off, great to get your energy back,” Mrazek said.

… Blashill liked what he saw of the All-Star Game 3-on-3 format and the inspirational story of John Scott, who was voted into the game and earned Most Valuable Player honors.

“Great story,” Blashill said. “I don’t know John at all but he seems like a guy who is thoughtful and gave an interesting prespective on the whole thing and I’m glad he had a great weekend.

“It was a great day for the NHL and a great weekend.”