Detroit — This is beginning to look a lot like last season.
No, not the Red Wings’ season in general. But, specifically, the power-play’s struggles.
For most of last season the unit struggled — especially on the road — costing the Red Wings many games.
The power play was fine early this season, and the Red Wings remained competitive in the standings.
But lately, the power play has sagged and so with it have the Red Wings.
The Red Wings are 1-for-17 in the last four games on the power play, a key reason they’ve lost three of those four games.
“It hasn’t been good at all,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “In the last little bit, it’s taken momentum away. We went through a stretch through December, and it wasn’t great into January, but it looked good and was getting chances.
“It’s not good enough right now.”
The Red Wings are having a difficult time entering the zone and setting up in man-advantage situations.
“Our entries have been pretty bad, we haven’t executed,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “Over the course of the year our entries have been pretty good but that’s something we have to clean up, to get into the zone and just to set up.
“I don’t know if we’ve gotten set up that much over the last three games.”
Blashill appears set to switch some personnel on the two units, maybe placing Andreas Athanasiou on Henrik Zetterberg’s unit to bring a little more speed to that group.
“We may tweak a little bit in terms of personnel to give ourselves more speed on both units,” Blashill said.
Then, there’s the age-old mantra of simply getting pucks to the net and creating chaos around the goalie.
The Red Wings have stayed too much outside of the goalmouth lately.
“We have to get pucks to the cage area and score some ugly goals,” Blashill said. “We’ve gotten a little bit to the outside of the dots a little bit too much.”
Blashill didn’t sound as if he’ll be putting any new personnel on either unit. He did acknowledge Frans Nielsen is one player who has had power play success in his career, and could be a possibility to replace someone.
Just last week the Red Wings were in the midst of a five-day “bye” week that every NHL team gets during the regular season.
But the odd part for the team is having three days between games, again, in this stop-and-start month of January.
The Red Wings played Tuesday and don’t play again until Saturday (hosting Carolina), which begins a span of four games in six days before the All-Star break (and five days before another game).
“It’s weird how that works,” Nyquist said. “Another break coming up, we had the three games in four days. Every team goes through it, but it is a little weird.”
Blashill gave the team Wednesday off, after the three games in four days, and Thursday had a spirited, physical practice.
“You get to practice harder and gives you a chance to work on some battle stuff,” Blashill said.
In a perfect world, Blashill would rather do away with the bye week and tack on those off days before, or after, the All-Star break.
“The players like it,” Blashill said. “I’ve got nothing to do with it. I coach the schedule I’m given. I’m not a big fan of the bye week but I’m also not a player and that was negotiated in as part of the agreement to go 3-on-3 (format in the All-Star Game).
“I don’t think much about it.”
Forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Zetterberg didn’t practice but Blashill expects both to play Saturday, saying both had “maintenance days”.
…With Justin Abdelkader (lower body), Luke Glendening (hand) and Darren Helm (lower body) all not in the lineup, the penalty kill is in a state of flux.
Getting players like Athanasiou, Bertuzzi, David Booth and Dominic Turgeon work in practice will help their familiarity heading into games.
“They haven’t had a lot of reps,” Blashill said. “They’re learning on the fly. We have to get some reps with those guys, we’ll get it in practice, and as we keep going they’ll have to keep finding the little nuances of being better.”