Red Wings keep secret of penalty-kill success under wraps

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
The Red Wings kept the Maple Leafs 0-for-4 on the power play.

Detroit — It was as if someone had just asked Dylan Larkin a deep, dark secret nobody had ever asked him about.

But it wasn’t. A reporter simply asked Larkin about the Red Wings’ penalty kill after Thursday’s game, which was exceptional in the Wings’ 5-4 overtime victory over Toronto.

Still, that look of horror.

“You know what, we are not going to talk about the penalty kill because we need to just not talk about it,” Larkin said.

Strange, but OK. But, why?

“We’ve been instructed by (assistant coach) Doug Houda to just be business as usual.

“So, no comment.

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Houda oversees the penalty kill, and it exceptional against the Leafs, killing all four Toronto power plays — and keeping the Leafs’ third-ranked power play coming into the game off the scoreboard.

“Doug Houda did a great job of coming up with the plan and our guys did a great job of going out and executing it,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That’s a dangerous power play and we took too many penalties for my liking, but the kill was great.”

Blocking shots helped.

The Wings were blocking shots all game, be it even-strength, penalty kill, whatever situation imaginable, to the tune of a 30 blocked Leafs shots.

Niklas Kronwall led the way with six, but it was a collective team effort from the start of the game.

“Our PK did an outstanding job, guys were willing to block shots and that made a big difference,” goaltender Jonathan Bernier said.

In Blashill’s estimation, a team has to have unreal sacrifice to win.

“And nothing shows sacrifice better than blocked shots,” Blashill said. “We did an excellent job of that. It was a big reason we won the hockey game.

“We’ve had wingers in the middle of the ice just a little more than in the past (schematically), but when you have (Luke) Glendening, (Jacob) de la Rose, a (Michael) Rasmussen, a (Tyler) Bertuzzi, those guys, that’s what they do, and they do a great job of eating pucks. The defense has done a great job of eating pucks — and that’s how you win.”

Unexpected offense

Toronto scored first Thursday, but the Wings were able to snuff the momentum and enthusiasm in the building quickly with goals from Jonathan Ericsson and Glendening.

Not exactly two expected sources of offense, but it’s another reason for the Wings’ success this season, different players producing on different evenings.

“Good for Johnny to shoot it from the top there,” Blashill said. “Glenny has been excellent all year. Glenny is a great hockey player. He helps you win games in so many ways.”

Glendening worked on the offensive part of his game last summer.

“To keep getting better,” Blashill said. “He’s one of those guys that can get better at things because of his work ethic and his athleticism and he looks like a better offensive player now than he was a year ago.

“That’s in large part to the work he put in this summer.”

Ice chips

Bertuzzi’s two-game suspension ended after Thursday’s game. He’ll be eligible to play Saturday against the Islanders.

…Forward Gustav Nyquist feels Larkin has expanded his game, and Larkin’s speed is a factor against opponents.

“He plays in all situations for us,” Nyquist said. “Once he gets going on his skates, he’s a pretty tough player to stop with his speed. It’s great to see. He’s really developed that defensive side of the game since his first couple of years. He’s been a real good player for us.”

… The Wings held an optional skate Friday.

Twitter: @tkulfan

Islanders at Red Wings

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

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Islanders (13-11-3, 29 points) have been a mild surprise, overcoming the loss of C John Tavares to free agency…LW Anders Lee (11 goals, 22 points) and RW Josh Bailey (15 assists, 22 points) lead offensively, and former Red Wing C Valtteri Filppula (16 points) has been effective.