Red Wings’ challenge: Fix defective power play

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Brendan Smith (2) looks on with Justin Abdelkader as the Lightning celebrate their third power-play goal during Game 4 on Tuesday.

Detroit — The evidence is obvious, and the math is simple.

The Red Wings took five penalties in Game 4 that led to Lightning power plays. Three were assessed in the offensive zone and two in the neutral zone, bad areas of the ice to take penalties at any time, let alone in the playoffs.

The Lightning scored all three goals on 10 shots on the resulting power plays in a 3-2 victory.

The Wings had four power plays. They managed five shots and no goals.

The biggest hope for prolonging the series beyond Game 5 on Thursday is for the Red Wings to capitalize on the power play and stay out of the penalty box.

They face a stiff challenge on the power play.

Top offensive stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have only Zetterberg’s goal between them. Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are not contributing significantly by finding the back of the net, with only Nyquist’s goal in Game 4 on the scoring sheets.

Niklas Kronwall, the nominal captain of one of the power-play units, does not have a goal with the man advantage all season.

A power play that gathered considerable force in March and early April is suddenly on a 1-for-21 stretch.

“When things don’t go well, you overthink stuff,” Zetterberg said. “You start to overthink everything instead of just making the simple first play, which is, most of the time, the right play.”

Wojo: Wings seek ray of hope amid gathering gloom

Coach Jeff Blashill said he has thought of a number of remedies, including using the longtime healthy scratch Teemu Pulkkinen, whose blazing shot was proficient in the American Hockey League, or recalling Anthony Mantha from Grand Rapids.

Of Pulkkinen, Blashill said, “I have to weigh is the idea of what he could do to help it, versus the actual application of it when he has not been on it for so long.

“Can you actually develop the kind of chemistry you need to have success, when you only have one game, you might get two power plays and you don’t have much time to practice?

“That’s the thing we’re weighing here, with changes. Versus something that Tampa’s message is: The 10 guys who are on it, let’s make a little bit better plays.”

As for Mantha, Blashill said that while the stats may suggest he had a huge impact on the power play, closer analysis indicates he did not.

“I know those stats, obviously,” Blashill said, of the power play tallying 11 goals in 30 chances with Mantha on one of the units, and 1-for-21 after he was sent down, toward the end of the season.

“Is there a direct correlation or no correlation? And that’s the judgment we have to make beyond just the simple statistic that he was on the ice.

“My feeling right now is we don’t feel the correlation is as heavily related. I went back and looked at the goals that were scored and I can’t say that’s the direct correlation of why we had the success at that time.

“And I also can’t say that as I look at the issues we have had right now that it’s by any stretch been because of a lack of a job done by Riley Sheahan and Justin Abdelkader, who are in the spot that ultimately Mantha was in.”

Instead of new personnel, Blashill said, the challenge will be for the current members of the two units to lift their games, with special emphasis on getting the puck through active Lightning defenders to the net in the hope forwards will be there to produce second and third chances.

“They do a great job of blocking shots and selling out,” Abdelkader said. “We’ve got to continue to focus on getting pucks on net any way we can. We’ve got to create some more movement. Obviously, we’re going to watch some more film and try to make some corrections.”

Rookie Dylan Larkin is unconvinced that brisker puck movement and quicker shots is the answer.

“When you have three guys sitting there and they’re in lanes, it’s not easy when you’re looking for a hope play and a quick shot,” he said. “It bounces off their shin pads and it goes in the corner and it’s 200 feet down the ice.

“You know, maybe we can look at it the other way and be a little bit more patient and wait for the right shot and maybe set it up a little better. Maybe move it around and beat the pressure.”

That is precisely what the Lightning did on two of its power play goals. Tic-tac-toe passing, including four and five volleys, before the shot that produced the goal was their approach, and it prevented the Wings penalty killers from thwarting the attack and blocking shots.

Wings recalibrate as season hangs in balance

The considerably irony is the Red Wings had the better power play during the season.

They finished 13th with a 18.8 scoring percentage. The Lightning, despite a better offense overall, ranked 28th at 15.8.

Through four games of the series, however, the Lightning rank eighth among the 16 playoff teams, at 21.1 percent. The Red Wings are 15th, at 4.8.

With the Lightning suddenly clicking on the power play, staying out of the penalty box is a bigger priority for the Wings.

Kucherov began the scoring in the first period Tuesday with Abdelkader off for a holding penalty committed well into the Lightning’s zone.

He sat for nine seconds before Kucherov struck.

“We’ve got to focus on staying out of the box,” said Abdelkader, who was also in the sin bin in Game 2 when Kucherov scored the first goal of the game on the power play.

“Obviously, their power play won it for them last night, and playing them five-on-five I think we’re a team that’s really successful.

“Every game has been close. The games we lost could have gone either way.”

Twitter: @greggkrupa