Red Wings see positives out of penalty killing

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — They won Wednesday to end a winless streak, but the Red Wings did see another streak come to an end and this one they wouldn't have minded go on a little longer.

The Wings' penalty kill saw a streak of 19 consecutive penalty kills come to an end Wednesday when St. Louis scored a first-period power-play goal.

Detroit goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic is shown during the second period of an October game against the Flames.

Disappointing for the Wings, to be sure.

But all the Wings did was come back later in the game, and kill two crucial Blues power plays in the third period with the game in the balance.

A penalty-killing unit that was struggling early on, and has been a source of frustration for fans for several seasons now, sat 24th (out of 32 teams) in the NHL on Saturday morning at 78.1%.

Still not sensational, given the rank. But with the way the unit has been playing lately, with the success it has had, certainly is reason for optimism.

"It's been huge," goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic said. "We were going over (the St. Louis) power play (Wednesday) and thinking it's been a while since we gave up a power play goal.  The PK has definitely stepped up the past two or three weeks. Even (Wednesday), yes, they get that one in the first period, but those were two big kills in the third there with the lead and trying to protect the lead.

"We didn’t really give them much of anything on them, and it's definitely a testament to guys battling and laying out and sacrificing their bodies and committing to getting better on the penalty kill."

Silver lining

Dylan Larkin headed into Saturday's game with points in six consecutive games (six goals, three assists), and with 10 goals on the season, already has surpassed last season's total of nine goals.

Larkin has gone through some frustrating stops-and-starts through this season, but has played with authority and confidence when he has been on the ice and is off to one of the best starts in his NHL career.

Larkin's season ended prematurely last season because of a neck injury, and the rehabilitation forced him to rest for much of the summer.

In a roundabout way, maybe having to sit and relax a bit was a positive for Larkin.

“Maybe (the neck) injury in some ways was good,” Blashill said. “He’s such a worker and has such inner drive that maybe the injury gave him a chance to kind of sit back and refresh a little bit.

"From the beginning of the season he’s done an excellent job. That line (with Lucas Raymond, Tyler Bertuzzi) was really good (Wednesday) in terms of compete on the puck and they’ve been a big part of any wins that we’ve had.

"He looks definitely refreshed and energized.”

Ice chips

Blashill said both defenseman Danny DeKeyser (COVID-19 protocol) and forward Joe Veleno (upper body) were unavailable to play against Buffalo.

Defenseman Marc Staal (illness, non-COVID) has missed the last three games, and Blashill wasn't certain Staal was going to be ready for Saturday's game. Blashill said Staaal was a "game time decision".

...The Buffalo Sabres got off to a quick start this season, have slumped lately, but Friday defeated Montreal 4-1. In all, it's been a better than expected start to the Sabres' season.

"They play hard and are well coached by Don Granato, and excellent coach and person who players want to play extremely hard for, and they do," Blashill said. "They're a resilient team and fight like crazy."

... The Wings entered Saturday's game 6-2-2 at Little Caesars Arena this season.

"We've played with a lot of energy and I put a large part of it with the atmosphere in the building, the crowd has been energized," Blashill said. "The crowd has been awesome and the building has been awesome, and it's really creating a hard environment to play in for opponents."

Twitter: @tkulfan