Red Wings turn poachers on penalty kill
Detroit — A hockey team doesn’t enjoy the idea of killing a penalty and being shorthanded.
But the way the Red Wings have played on the penalty kill, it doesn’t look as if they really mind.
The Red Wings scored their sixth shorthanded goal of the season Friday — tied for the league lead with San Jose and Florida — continuing a season-long trend of being aggressive and, actually, looking for offense while being a player down.
Coach Jeff Blashill credits assistant Doug Houda, who oversees the penalty kill, with instilling an aggressive approach.
“(Houda) made a point of focus from the beginning of the year when we have opportunities, let’s be a threat on the penalty kill,” Blashill said. "When you insert (Dylan) Larkin in the kill, (Frans) Nielsen, and (Darren) Helm, we have Double-A (Andreas Athanasiou) on one of the units, you have an opportunity to have real threats there. Glennie (Luke Glendening) for that matter.
“The way everybody’s power play is going, they’re all about being four (players) at the net. When you have four at the net, if the puck goes the wrong way, you have opportunities for shorthanded chances. We’ve given up some shorthanded chances but I do think when you’re threat on the penalty kill, it backs teams off a little bit on the power play and it’s a hard way to run a power play.”
Defenseman Trevor Daley scored Friday’s shorthanded goal in the second period, breaking a 1-1 tie and giving the Red Wings momentum and control of the game.
Daley was on a 2-on-1 rush with Larkin, and after the Leafs overplayed on Larkin, Daley positioned himself for a clean shot on goalie Curtis McElhinney.
“We have six (goals) but we could have more at this point,” said Larkin, who scored shorthanded Wednesday against Boston. “It seems like the past couple games, every time we’re out there we’re creating something. When you know the other team is looking for offense, it puts you on your heels.”
Shorthanded goals are, and always have been, huge momentum changers.
“Huge,” Blashill said. “A lot of times you’re looking at it and saying, ‘boy, we’re going to be down another goal’ and all of a sudden you score and it’s a different story.
“It just takes a lot away from the other team’s power play.”
Blashill began Friday’s postgame news conference thanking the referees for paying particular attention to the Maple Leafs’ interference.
“Just one thing I thought was great was the refs demanded the game be played the right way by calling those interference calls,” Blashill said. “Those are big-time interference calls.
“Babs (former Red Wings, current Toronto coach Mike Babcock), he does a good job. We used the word cutoff, but cutoff has turned into tackle. It’s not tackle football. That’s trying to take it back to the 1980s. Honestly, I was excited the refs said they’re illegal plays.”
Amazing what a victory can do.
Saturday’s practice began with Luke Witkowski wearing a pigeon stocking cap to the ice, which reflected the relaxed atmosphere around the rink following Friday's 3-1 win over the Maple Leafs.
“We should have fun,” Blashill said. “This is a high pressure and results-oriented business for sure, but we should have fun. We’re playing or coaching hockey for a living.
“When you win you can have a little more fun, no question about it. But it should be a fun environment. Hard working, but you should love coming to the rink.”