Red Wings turn to Frans Nielsen for power-play help

The Detroit News
Frans Nielsen

St. Paul, Minnesota – Looking for poise and simplicity on the power play, Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill turned to a stable veteran.

On Friday against Winnipeg, forward Frans Nielsen joined one of the power-play units – and the Wings got a power-play goal.

Nielsen, with his ability to slow things down and make the good, smart play, was someone who was needed on that unit.

“It’s basically trying to eliminate unforced errors,” said Blashill of Nielsen’s presence on the power play. “It’s not a dynamic shot or anything like that. He’s got a good downhill mentality, so he’s going to keep it simple.

“You’ve got to have poise when you’re under pressure and make sure there’s no unforced errors. That’s creeped into our power play way too much. That’s why he went on it the last game.”

More: One goal short is becoming Red Wings’ theme

Nielsen was on the unit with Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader Gustav Nyquist and Niklas Kronwall –  with Kronwall scoring the power play goal against the Jets.

As was the case most of last season, the Red Wings have had difficulty in the last couple weeks getting into the offensive zone and setting up their power play.

The Wings are 22nd in the NHL on the power play at 18.9 percent. Last year they finished 27th at 15.1 percent.

“You have to be able to get into the zone and set up, and I just thought that killed us at times last year,” Blashill said. “It’s been pretty good for the most part this year, but lately we’ve gone back toward too many unforced errors in games.

“You’ve got to be able to have that kind of poise. That’s why he’s (Nielsen) ended up on our 6-on-5 (situations, at end of games) a number of times. When he’s out there, we’ve scored, because he has poise under pressure.”

Line changes

Blashill also shuffled the lines at Sunday’s morning skate, in an attempt to have a strong net presence on each line.

Blashill shifted Anthony Mantha onto a line with Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader, while Tyler Bertuzzi replaced Mantha on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist.

Nielsen centered Andreas Athanasiou and Darren Helm, while Luke Glendening was between Luke Witkowski and David Booth.

Goals have been difficult to come by, so Blashill is hoping the new looks will spark offense.

“Z’s (Zetterberg) line has been real good but we need more lines going,” Blashilll said. “We’re hoping to get a little bit more net presence on each line and we’ll see if it will give us a spark.”

Feeling better

Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was feeling significantly better Sunday than he was 48 hours earlier in Winnipeg.

Ericsson missed his first game of the season Friday while battling a short-term virus.

“It was hard during the skate this morning,” Ericsson said. “I haven’t been able to eat much, and just get much energy. I feel better.”

Ericsson leads the Red Wings with a team-best plus-5 rating.

Blashill feels Ericsson’s size and physical presence makes him a unique presence in the lineup.

“He’s big and he can skate,” Blashill said. “When you play teams that are big and can skate, he can match up against them physically.

“There are guys in the league, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Ryan) Getzlaf, Eric Staal here (Minnesota), it’s hard if you don’t match them physically.

“It was kind of like last year when he was out with an injury. You miss him for sure. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss him until he’s out.”