Speed kills: Red Wings PK unit soars with aggressive approach

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Darren Helm

Detroit – The Detroit Red Wings want their penalty killers to be aggressive.

They think that with the speed of the forwards on that unit, the ability to play aggressively and force mistakes, and possibly capitalize with a scoring chance of their own, is worthwhile.

Looking at the results, the approach appears to be working.

“There’s enough speed out there that they can put the other team on their heels,” coach Jeff Blashill said.

Blashill has been using Dylan Larkin with Luke Glendening, Frans Nielsen with Darren Helm, and Andreas Athanasiou with Justin Abdelkader among the forwards, all of whom either have dangerous speed or have been crafty penalty killers throughout their careers.

The penalty kill has been consistently effective all season. Heading into Tuesday’s games the Red Wings ranked sixth in the NHL, killing 84.6 percent of their penalties.

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The Red Wings also ranked second with four shorthanded goals scored – one each from Larkin, Nielsen, Helm and Luke Glendening (Minnesota leads with five).

“We’ve going after it,” Helm said. “Obviously you get the puck out first, but if we get an opportunity to go, we go and try to create some offense.

“We’ve done a better job of being smarter with our opportunities, going when we have a chance, not be too aggressive. It can backfire on you, too. But we’re being smart with the opportunities and aggressive with the ones we get.”

Aggressiveness has been preached by the coaching staff, trying to utilize the Red Wings’ speed.

“I love it,” said Helm of the aggressive approach. “It’s hard to play against. We’re doing a pretty good job of it and hopefully it continues.”

The penalty kill will be tested Wednesday against Edmonton’s power play, which has performed much better since the Red Wings won 4-0 earlier this month in Edmonton. The Oilers’ power play ranks 11th in the NHL at 21.4 percent.

Developing line

The Nielsen line, centering Helm and Glendening, is evolving into a quality shutdown line.

They frustrated the Colorado line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen through regulation time in Sunday’s game.

“They were excellent,” Blashill said. “That MacKinnon line is a great line. Rantanen is a real player, MacKinnon is a No. 1 overall (pick) and Landeskog is a No. 2 overall. Until the last moments of the game, they shut them down.

“They’ve created a lot of zone time, created a lot of energy. We had to kill some penalties, and they ended up playing a ton of minutes, but they’ve done an excellent job.”

Revenge factor?

The Red Wings played one of their best games of the season when they won 4-0 in Edmonton on Nov. 5. And it was one of the worst for the Oilers, who heard it from fans and media afterward.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers react Wednesday, and especially with their season going downhill quickly.

“Anytime you don’t play the way you want to, you always remember that,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard. “I’m sure they’ll (the Oilers) be ready to go.”

Ice chips

The Red Wings met before Tuesday’s practice to go over the disappointing loss against the Avalanche and reiterate the way they need to play to be successful.

“The league is relentless and you have to be relentless in your approach,” Blashill said. “We were OK (Sunday). We weren’t bad. But OK isn’t good enough.”

… Howard is scheduled to get the start against Edmonton, which would be his 16th this season. Blashill said he has an approximate target of how many starts he’d like Howard to have this season.

“We have long-range plans but it’s an everyday business,” said Blashill, noting a variety of factors can change any plans.

... Forward Martin Frk (groin) was the only player who didn’t skate Tuesday, and is likely out until next week.


Faceoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena

TV / radio: Fox Sports Detroit / 97.1 FM

Outlook: The Oilers play the third game of a five-game road trip, and the second of a back-to-back. They are in St. Louis Tuesday night. … C Connor McDavid, last season’s MVP, has 10 goals and 25 points.