Better defensive play a must for next season's Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Wings general manager Ken Holland says there are many areas the team needs to improve upon next season if they want to make the playoffs.

Detroit — The Red Wings have to improve in a lot of areas, in many different ways.

But one area, for sure, is limiting the goals-against.

On their way to missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season, the Wings were not a good defensive team this season.

They allowed 277 goals, which was fifth-worst in the NHL. The Wings’ minus-50 goal differential was also fifth-worst among the 31 teams.

“Certainly we got to cut the goals-against down,” said Wings general manager Ken Holland on locker cleanout day. “Everybody in there (locker room) knows it. We have to be better on special teams, we have to be better in this. The reason we’re out and we were out probably two months ago is we weren’t good enough in enough areas.

“We know it.”

The Wings also had the 19th-ranked power play (18.1 percent) and ranked 28th on the penalty kill (77.1 percent).

The special teams have lagged in all three seasons the Wings have missed the playoffs.

Generally speaking, teams want to be in the top 10 in either, or both categories, which usually means a team is playoff-caliber.

Coach Jeff Blashill felt the power play showed potential to be a strength, particularly late in the season the Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi-led unit.

“If you look around the league, the best power-play units have been together a number of years, for the most part,” Blashill said. “For the most part they’ve been able to develop chemistry over time and I’m hoping the chemistry with the group (will grow and benefit the unit).”

Blashill felt the penalty kill was better than the statistic showed, but admitted it still had room to get better.

Blashill said the staff will look at possibly using new personnel on the penalty kill next season.

Playoff push

The Red Wings are done, but the minor league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins are battling to secure a playoff spot in the American League.

The Griffins have two games remaining this weekend, and if they secure one point, they will clinch a franchise-record seven consecutive trips to the playoffs.

Grand Rapids has qualified for the AHL playoffs 16 out of 22  years.

The Wings assigned forwards Christoffer Ehn, Martin Frk, Matt Puempel and Dominic Turgeon, and defensemen Jake Chelios, Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek and Dylan McIlrath to the Griffins after their final game last weekend.

The AHL playoffs will begin next week.

Playoffs always the goal

Defenseman Niklas Kronwall hasn’t decided whether he’s returning next season.

But regardless of Kronwall does return, or not, he feels the playoffs are always what any team should aim for.

“It’s always has to be,” Kronwall said. “If you don’t have that goal going into the season, I don’t know what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter what lineup you put on the ice, if you give your best effort each and every night, if you work as hard as you can, the team that work the hardest most night win.

“It doesn’t matter what lineup you have. We showed that down the stretch.”

No recruiting

Blashill will be coaching Team USA for the men’s world hockey championships in Slovakia, May 10-26.

No roster has yet been announced by USA Hockey, but Blashill said he wants players who want to be there.

“It’s important that guys want to go,” said Blashill, who is coaching Team USA for a third consecutive season. “If minds are made up and you are changing them, it doesn’t end up a good experience (if the player goes).”

Blashill will make a few phone calls to recruit players.

“But I don’t want anybody who doesn’t want to be there,” Blashill said. “I want guys who want to be there.”