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Wings seek to get back to basics defensively

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk will be paired with Henrik Zetterberg when Detroit meets Pittsburgh Thursday.

Pittsburgh — After yielding nine goals in two games, the Red Wings say they intend to tighten their team defense and hope to get a rebound game from Petr Mrazek, against the Penguins.

Among the top priorities is not allowing opposing forwards, and in the case of Marek Zidlicky’s goal for the Islanders Monday, even defensemen, easy access to the Wings’ crease and other key areas of the attacking zone.

While Mrazek and Jimmy Howard were not at their best against the Bruins, Sunday, and the Islanders on Monday, their teammates were regularly strong contributors to the opponents’ plethora of scoring chances that led to the sudden shower of goals against.

“We’ve got to make sure we continue to do a good job of being above people,” Jeff Blashill said.

“I think that’s something we’ve done good, all year: Making the opposition’s ice hard, making them earn every inch of ice.
“And certainly tonight, against this team who’s obviously got a lot of skill and who’s great in transition, we’re going to have to do a real good job with that.”

The Penguins believe they restarted their season with a 5-2 win against the Wings, New Year’s Eve, and they talked about looking forward to another matchup against them.

But this one will be without Evgeni Malkin, with his 23 goals and 26 assists in 49 games. Malkin is slated to miss his seventh consecutive game, since Feb. 2, with “a lower body injury.”

Nonetheless, Blashill said there is a premium on limiting turnovers and better execution.

The only lineup change since Monday for the Red Wings is Mrazek in for Howard.

“Just be focused for every puck and every shot, and read the plays well,” Mrazek said, about his priorities. He also included, “Just go have fun.”

Wings' Mrazek looks to bounce back from bad win

Mrazek said it is easier to bounce back from a bad game, when his team won, as they did, 6-5, against the Bruins, in his worst outing of the season.

Blashill said he also intends to play Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk together.

“We’ll start that way,” he said.

The Penguins say they are impressed with the Red Wings' speed.

“They’ve got a lot more speed than they had in the past, and a lot of young guys that have skill,” said defenseman Kris Letang, who scored two goals and assisted in a 5-2 win over the Wings on New Year’s Eve.

Letang has nine goals and 31 assists on the season.

Sidney Crosby said that while the Penguins won the only previous meeting between the two clubs this season, they need a better start to the game against the Wings tonight.

“I think at this point our desperation level should be much higher, for both teams, especially given how close both teams are in the standings,” Crosby said.

The Wings entered play Thursday in third place in the Atlantic Division, with 67 points.

The Penguins were in fifth, in the Metropolitan Division, behind the Lightning for the second and last wild card berth by two wins in regulation and overtime, the first tiebreaker.