Detroit — As the Red Wings seek more offense, the missing ingredient compared to recent seasons is puck possession in the offensive zone.
The lack of it doesn’t just impede a team’s offense, it also leads to goals against.
Getting in, setting up and distributing the puck in ways that create space for shots and scoring chances is difficult. With the playoffs on the line and having scored 10 fewer goals than allowed entering play Thursday, it is a potential fix, both for the power play and five-on-five offense.
Offensive zone possession is also the basis for the axiom that playing in the opponents’ zone is the most secure defense.
The Wings’ ability to attack the blue line with speed and dump the puck in beneficial ways has faltered at times this season. And it is leading to fewer effective shots.
“I thought the other night when I looked at shot attempts, I thought we had a lot of shot attempts we didn’t get the puck through,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Thursday’s morning skate.
“I thought Tampa did a good job of blocking shots. Some of that is our job, to make sure we’re doing a better job of shooting off the pass, being faster at getting the puck to the net. Sometimes it’s just being committed to getting the puck to the net from the side.
“We’ve done that good in some games; probably not as good as we needed to do the other night in Tampa.”
Positioning in the zone helps the effectiveness of the shot attempts.
“But shots are one thing,” Blashill said. “Shot attempts are another thing. And you’ve got to find a way to get it on the net.”
In measuring the differential of all shots for — known as Corsi stats — the Red Wings trail their playoff competitors. They rank 19th at 52.9 per 60 minutes.
Teams ahead of them in the standings going into play Thursday were better: Penguins fourth (57.4), Flyers seventh (56.6), Islanders ninth (55.8), Lightning 11th (55.6) and Bruins 18th (52.9), according to WarOnIce.com
HockeyAnalytics.com offers slightly different specifics but confirms the general trends in performance.
Blashill believes offensive-zone puck possession tends to be mostly a side-effect of other facets of play.
“I think that sometimes follows the game a little bit. It’s an end result rather than a process,” he said.
Puck possession is also the best defense.
“Having the puck on your stick and spending time in the O-zone, there’s a use for that even when you don’t necessarily create scoring chances because you’re not defending,” Blashill said.
“We track that particularly. To me, that’s possession.”
But when attackers talk about gaining possession, they mean launching into the zone and establishing some space for someone to score.
Two Wings who could use a little help in that regard are Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. Compared to last season, both have fewer goals on fewer shots on net with a smaller percentage of shots resulting in goals.
In 82 games last season, Tatar scored 29 goals on 2.6 shots per game, with a shooting average of 13.7 percent. This season, through 72 games before Thursday, he has garnered 20 goals on 2.1 shots per game with a shooting average of 13.2 percent.
In 82 games last season, Nyquist tallied 27 goals on 2.4 shots per game, with a 13.8 shooting percentage. This season through 73 games before Thursday, he has 16 goals on about two shots per game and a 10.8 shooting percentage.
Like all scorers who have seen and are looking for better performance, Nyquist and Tatar talk about the reasons shots go in and the reasons they don’t. They say offensive-zone possession is an area the Red Wings can improve.
“A lot it has to do with winning battles, being strong on the puck, protecting the puck,” Nyquist said. “A lot of times now, we’ve been one-and-done.
“Sometimes, we try to make a move and go for it instead of try to keep it and grind them down a little bit. I think it’s a mix of things.”
Nyquist believes it has gone “a little bit” better in other years.
“It’s tough to say exactly why,” he said.
Tatar called for “more poise with the puck.”
“Hold on to it instead of just turning it away,” he said. “You know, in the O-zone you have freedom, pretty much, to go where you want to go. Unless it’s around the blue line. But, deep in the zone, you can do as much as you can.
“And that’s where we need to make some plays.”