Red Wings tweak struggling power play

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — It was time to move some bodies and create new looks on the power play Thursday at practice.

The Red Wings have been struggling with the man advantage — a dreadful 2 for the last 31 attempts — a stark contrast to early in the season, when the unit was ranked near the top 10 in the league (it was 20th entering Thursday’s games).

Red Wings forward Andreas Athanasiou            played the "half-wall" spot on the power-play unit in Thursday's practice.

Coach Jeff Blashill had tweaked personnel during Tuesday’s game in Washington, and with Mike Green unavailable for Thursday’s practice, the blender went to work again.

So, in the end, the Wings had Dennis Cholowski, Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin, Gustav Nyquist and Thomas Vanek on one unit, with Niklas Kronwall (in for Green), Martin Frk, Andreas Athanasiou, Michael Rasmussen and Tyler Bertuzzi manning the second unit.

“We’re hoping to get some chemistry going,” Blashill said.

Athanasiou plays the half-wall spot on his unit, and Larkin is the bumper (slot) on the first unit, both subtle changes Blashill hopes will ignite the units and create badly needed offense from the power play.

But to get a spark, the Wings have to simply get on the power play — they’ve only had one in each of the last two games — which is an interesting item in itself.

Generally speaking, many folks around the NHL believe officials are calling less penalties and letting more things slide.

“We’ve been in a lot of games where there hasn’t been a whole lot called,” said Blashill, agreeing to the general notion of late. “Since the beginning of the year, when we were leading the league in penalties and power plays given up, we’ve been in a lot of games where a lot hasn’t been called either way.

“Do I sense they’re relaxing? I don’t know. Every game takes a life of its own, and I can’t sit and say in a bunch of games they’ve been missing a lot of calls on either side. Generally, they do a great job. Maybe it’s just the way it has been, I don’t know.”

There’s been a growing sense around the NHL the league wouldn’t mind a bit more physicality being brought into the game, and there have been a growing number of open-ice hits taking place.
Kronwall’s big hit on the New York Islanders’ Anders Lee last week excited the Little Caesars Arena crowd, was replayed on every highlight package, and ignited the passion in that particular game.

“Our physicality has increased over the last month, and usually one team’s physicality brings out the other team’s physicality,” Blashill said. “You saw that in the Islanders game once Kronwall made the big hit on Lee. They really came with a big, physical presence. Those things build.

“I watch enough of the other games that I don’t know they’re a lot more physical, I don’t have a feel for that, but I certainly know our team has been more physical.”

An 'important' visit

The Red Wings made their annual visit to Children’s Hospital of Michigan on Thursday, making in-room visits and providing gifts to children.

It’s one event that touches everyone from players to coaching staff every year.

“This is a very important day in here,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “It’s one thing everybody really, really wants to do because it’s so important.”

The visit always impacts Nielsen because there are kids in the hospital whose ages are similar to his own.

“It’s hard to see,” Nielsen said. “There are 2-year-old kids in there with cancer, and stuff like that, and it’s just horrible. It’s just not right. You shouldn’t have that at that age.

“It’s terrible to see. It’s wrong. Hopefully, we can do a little bit (to bring cheer).”

The day, and visit, pulls at Blashill’s heartstrings.

“To have the thought that these young people and their families could potentially spend Christmas in the hospital and spend a lot of time in the hospital,” Blashill said, “my niece actually goes for regular check-ups to that hospital; that part especially hits home with me.

“I’m very lucky that my three children, outside of an early heart surgery for my youngest, have been healthy. I count my blessings every day.

“It also gives you a great deal of respect for what these families go through. What usually happens is you go there and they put a smile on your face, and it’s a great reminder of what is important in life. Hockey is important, your job is important, but what is really important is health and wellness and enjoying your family.”

A bit of perspective, Blashill said, is always gleamed from the visit.

“For sure, the health of yourself and your family, and being around your family, that’s the most important by a country mile,” Blashill said. “We all lose perspective of that. We don’t go to gain perspective, we go to hopefully help out and add joy to a day that can be dreary, but it certainly gives you great perspective again.”

Ice chips

Green and defensemen Jonathan Ericsson didn’t practice, and Blashill wasn’t sure if either will be available for Friday’s game against Ottawa.

… Blashill is hopeful of catching a bit of Saturday’s Division II national championship football game between his alma mater Ferris State and Valdosta State (Ga.).

Ferris State won the men’s basketball national title last spring.

“The sports at Ferris have done a great job, men’s basketball, and football this year and competing (for the national title), and (coach) Bobby Daniels has done as good a job as anybody in college hockey over the last 15 years, it’s awesome,” said Blashill, who’ll be preparing for a game Saturday on Long Island against the Islanders. “I have a lot of pride, I love the university and what they’ve provided me. I’m a Bulldog. My wife is a Bulldog. My kids have a lot of pride in Bulldogs. If I can, I’ll watch, but I also have to win a game that night.”

Senators at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM

Outlook: Ottawa (13-15-4, 30 points) has been one of the surprise stories of the season, overcoming injuries and inexperience to contend for a wild-card spot. … RW Mark Stone (15 goals, 20 assists) and D Thomas Chabot (eight goals, 25 assists) have sparked the offensive attack.

Twitter: @tkulfan