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Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar and coach Jeff Blashill answer questions Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 at Little Caesars Arena. Helene St. James, DFP
Nov 2, 2017; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Red Wings left wing Tomas Tatar skates with the puck in the third period against the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre.(Photo: Marc DesRosiers, USA TODAY Sports)
The emphasis placed on special teams during training camp appears to be paying off for the Detroit Red Wings.
The Wings rank sixth in the NHL in penalty kill at 84.6 percent, and they have converted on the power play in four of the last five games.
Dylan Larkin’s unit gets primary credit for power-play production, as it has accounted for the last four goals. Two of those goals have come from Martin Frk, who will miss Wednesday’s game against Calgary, and likely a whole week, because of a sore groin. Frans Nielsen will take Frk’s spot on the Larkin unit.
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The Henrik Zetterberg unit hasn’t converted since Oct. 20, though it had a great chance and during a 5-on-3 at Florida on Oct. 28. .
The Wings sit in the middle of the pack in the NHL with an 18.9 percent conversion rate on the power play this season
“It’s been a long time since they’ve converted but we’ve had no power plays hardly,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Tuesday’s practice at Little Caesars Arena. “You go through games and you don’t hardly get any power plays and then if you are the second group to go out, you’re getting 40 seconds each time. They just haven’t had very much time.
“When either group gets a chance, they have to have an extraordinarily high level of urgency because we are just not getting very many. So we can’t feel our way into the power play, we’ve got to be ready to execute right away.”
The Zetterberg unit understands they’ve got to start producing.
“We’ve had a few chances, our unit, and didn’t score and at the end of the night it looks kind of bad when you don’t,” Tomas Tatar said. “We are still working on it.”
The Wings averaged around four power plays per game over first eight games. They’ve had 10 power-play opportunities over the past six games, and three of those opportunities came during the Wings' overtime loss at Calgary on Nov. 9.
It’s not unusual for officials to call penalties differently, though, and the Wings only have been shorthanded two times per game in five of their games during that stretch.
The Wings’ special teams are in better shape than at this point last season, when the power play was still in the toddler stage of what would grow to an ugly four months of power-play inefficiency.
Improving both has been a focus since the first day of camp.
“I said to our group we have to have elite specialty teams, and I think the penalty kill is in that range and we’d like to get the power play up into that top 10 range,” Blashill said. “If you have a top-10 PP and a top-10 PK, you give yourself a better chance to be a playoff team. So we are going to keep striving for that.”
One emphasis for the penalty killers, especially forwards Luke Glendening, Darren Helm and Nielsen, has been to create scoring chances when possible. Each already has a shorthanded goal.
“Our mentality has been a little more aggressive than it has in the past,” Glendening said. “I mean, they’ve always said if you a chance, take it, but this year we’ve done it a little more and maybe it’s backing them off a little bit. If we can get one or get a chance, it can swing the momentum. The PK can be a big momentum changer in the game and that is what we are trying to do.”
Blashill noted there are some teams — such as Dallas during the 2015-16 season, when the Stars scored 58 power-play goals but also allowed 15 shorthanded goals — that score lots of power-play goals, but give up tons of shorthanded goals.
“To me, you look at goals for and goals against on each specialty team unit,” Blashill said. “If you are able to score shorties, that’s a big thing. And it’s also a big momentum thing. The other thing that shorties or getting shorthanded chances does, it puts the power play on their heels and it’s hard to be a good power play when you are on your heels.”
Contact Helene St. James: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.