Ineffectiveness on specialty teams keying long Red Wings' losing streak

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Detroit Red Wings center Andreas Athanasiou controls the puck during Wednesday night's loss to Ottawa.

Kanata, Ontario — There are a lot of things going wrong with the Red Wings, all of which have contributed to this six-game losing streak.

But when you look at the specialty teams, the ineffectiveness of the power play and penalty kill are key reasons the Wings haven’t won since October 10 in Montreal.

They were front in center over a 48 hour span in losses to Vancouver and Ottawa.

After allowing two key Vancouver power play goals Tuesday, igniting the Canucks’ comeback, the penalty kill did its job against Ottawa, stopping the NHL’s worst power play unit (ranked last, 3.7 percent).

More: 'Not a winning recipe': Wings allow five goals again, losing streak reaches six

But then, you have the Wings’ power play, which scored twice against Vancouver, but was 0-for-5 against Ottawa along with allowing the tie-breaking shorthanded goal.

It seems the Wings are losing the specialty team game within a game every night. And for that reason, they’re losing games night after night.

“It makes it really difficult,” said coach Jeff Blashill, talking about struggles of the specialty teams. “You ask me about how many goals we’ve given up, a lot of those goals have been on the penalty kill. We’ve gone through games where we’ve played pretty good defensively and all of the sudden, you give up goals on the penalty ill and it melts you a little bit.

“(Wednesday in Ottawa) it’s 2-2 and we give up a shorthanded goal. Do that, and you better find a way to come back and score.

“We can’t lose the specialty teams battle on a nightly basis and think we’re going to win.”

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Blashill and his staff did a study several years ago which showed teams who win the specialty teams game within the game on a given night, won 76 percent of games.

“Right now, we’re putting ourselves at tough odds,” Blashill said. “Now, you have to play that much better than other teams to win. That’s really hard to do.”

In Thursday’s NHL stats, the Wings have the 26th ranked power play (12.1 percent) and 27th penalty kill (71.9 percent).

Those types of numbers are a recipe for long losing streaks.

“You can talk about systems, different thing, but each individual has to be a little bit better,” Justin Abdelkader said. “We have to work as a team. It’s been a tough stretch for sure but I believe in our group and we’re coming home, so that will help us.”

Doing too much

Against Ottawa, it appeared at times as if the Wings were trying to change the complexion of the game on a single shift.

But when a team is mired is a lengthy losing streak and there aren’t many positives, maybe it’s understandable.

“I’ve talked all the time about the importane of confidence in this league,” Blashill said. “(Giving up the shorthanded goal), you’re back on your heels too much. Fourth goal, a couple are out there way too long and they can’t think right.

“It felt like we’re trying to make it up on one shift sometimes. That’s not how it goes.”

The Wings have allowed 27 goals over this six-game losing streak — including five goals allowed in five of the losses.

For a team like the Wings, in which scoring goals can sometimes be a chore, that’s way too many goals to overcome.

“It’s hard to score in this league and we have to make sure it’s hard for the other team, too,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “We have to make sure they at least have to work for the chances they get.

“Right now, it’s too easy.”

Losing Glendening

Blashill admitted after Wednesday’s loss in Ottawa that forward Luke Glendening “is going to be out for a little bit”, after injuring his left hand in the game.

Losing Glendening for any period of time will be a tough blow, given his effectiveness in the face-off circle, defensive side of the puck, and versatility.

“He’s a warrior out there, a shot blocking machine,” Abdelkader said. “It was unfortunate to see him go down and not come back. He’s a heart and soul type of guy. The other guys in the lineup have to fill the void.”

Blashill is likely to update the conditions of both Glendening and defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who missed Wednesday’s game, after injuring himself the night before against Vancouver.

Abdelkader was hit by a shot late in Wednesday's loss to Ottawa, but returned to the ice before the end of the evening.

Sabres at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 Friday, Little Caesars Arena.

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Sabres (8-1-1) have gotten off to one of the best starts in the NHL. … C Jack Eichel (14 points) and D Rasmus Dahlin (10 assists) have sparked the quick start, under new coach Ralph Krueger.

Twitter: @tkulfan