Red Wings work on 3-on-3 overtime play

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
New Jersey Devils left wing Brian Gibbons celebrates his winning goal in overtime as Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nick Jensen skates past on Saturday night.

Detroit — There are some Xs and Os for the 3-on-3 hockey in overtime.

One can draw up some approaches and plays, for sure. But given what open ice tends to do to hockey players of some skill, things become more free-wheeling.

“I’ve got to tell you right now, the less players on the ice the less impact the coaches have,” Jeff Blashill said. “That’s just the way it is.

“You know, the less players there are on the ice the less you can do, systematically. The less guys on the ice, the less it becomes about Xs and Os.

“And, as a player, you’ve just got to step up and make plays.”

The Red Wings have two wins this season in the shootout, the skills competition after the overtime. But they are 0-4 in five-minute overtime frame, when teams play three aside, unless there are penalties.

Three-on-three play became a point of emphasis at practice on the main sheet of ice at Little Caesars Arena, Monday.

“I think that repetitions are good, especially in practice,” forward Justin Abdelkader said, when asked to weight the elements of conceptualization and actualization, of planning to play and the actual playing, that go into the three-on-three.

“You can kind of figure out what works and what doesn’t, and guys get familiar with that.

“We drew up a few things. But once you get out there, too, you’ve got to play.

“We tried some different things today, so let’s go out there and see what works.”

Henrik Zetterberg said that with so much open ice and the tendency to emphasize attacking to win the game, a priority is avoiding the big mistakes that send opponents skating freely down on the Wings generally hard-pressed goalies.

“At times, 3-on-3, it’s not doing the mistake or taking the bad shot, so the puck turns over to the other side,” he said.

“The one’s that we have lost have basically been odd-man rushes. There’s a a good chance that if the goalies makes a good save it’s going to be an odd-man rush the other way.”

Zetterberg said that gambling offensively in overtime certainly plays a role. But it also is true that a safer play is often the wiser play.

“The safer you can play, I think, and wait for your chances, I think you’ll have a higher success rate.”

More:David Booth earns spot on Wings' top line

Blashill said that if there is a difference to the players’ approach in overtime, it is the willingness to cheat just a bit up ice immediately after a scoring chance occurs in one’s own end.

“The only thing that might be different, when you know you are giving up a chance, you might cheat a little bit more,” Blashill said.

“I think, five-on-five you’re back-checking all of the time.

“When you’re dead in the water (three-on-three), you’re hoping your goalie makes a save. Because then, if you hang just a little bit, you get the chance to go back the other way.”

Blashill and Zetterberg said it getting the opportunity to practice the three-on-three extensively is a big opportunity for the Wings, given how the schedule and traveling often prevents extensive practice of much of anything.

“You don’t get a chance to do it much,” Blashill said. “We just wanted to get some reps in and we’ll continue to get some reps in to make sure guys get comfortable.

“We’ve got to turn that tide,” he said.

More:Petr Mrazek's exit gives Wings a headache

Practicing allowed the Red Wings to evaluate how pairs of players interact in the game situation, and they even began considering whether designated trios might work.

“It gives us a chance to look at some pairs, and see if there is something we’re missing in terms of usage,” Blashill said.

“In the end – certainly, as we watch a lot of three-on-threes – you’ve got to make plays.”

Blashill said he enters each game with pairings of forwards set for potential four-on-four situations and three-on-threes.

But that can be tough to execute, given the wild, occasionally haphazard line changes that occur in the overtime.

“It’s a little difficult, given the (line) changes,” Blashill said.

Blashill said that the team’s research shows winning faceoffs is not necessarily critical to success, and that the second chances, with the opponents’ trio potentially more scrambled, is often the better chance.

As for potential remedies, he said, “We’ve emphasized a couple of things: Real smart changes, trying to change and get the other team tired and you get fresh people out there.

“No wasted shots. If it’s not a real scoring chance, why waste it.

“Try to create real scoring chances.

“It really seems in the league as we watch lots that you don’t get a scoring chance until you give up a scoring chance.

“I don’t know that we want to necessarily give them up on purpose, but that’s kind of the way it goes.

“A lot of times you give up a scoring chance, you get a big save, you go back the other way.”