Detroit Red Wings: What Can They Do About Their Egregious Special Teams?
The Detroit Red Wings have just one point in the standings in their last five games.
They have dropped to fifth place in the Western Conference behind the Nashville Predators (who hold the tie-breaker on regulation and overtime wins), and the Chicago Blackhawks are in the rear-view mirror sitting just four points back.
For a team that sat at first in the Western Conference (and in the NHL) at one point in February, the past month is having a very "2009-10" feel to it for the Red Wings.
In the 2009-10 season, Detroit lost 307 man games to injury, and this past month, it feels like Detroit has lost about 40 or 50 man games just among Nick Lidstrom, Jonathan Ericsson, Jimmy Howard and Pavel Datsyuk.
Injuries never really benefit a team, and the Red Wings are no exception.
Just before the trade deadline, the Red Wings defense corps thinned out in a hurry.
The Red Wings had lost Ericsson to a wrist fracture just a couple days before the deadline.
Lidstrom suffered a deep bone bruise in his ankle two days before the deadline (only supposed to miss a couple games, but he has missed 10 games, including the Washington game).
Jakub Kindl sustained a mysterious "upper body injury" in early March.
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Suddenly, Detroit's defensemen look porous and inexperienced at best.
This inexperience not only manifests itself in five-on-five play, but also on special teams.
Special teams have killed Detroit in their losing streak, as the Red Wings went without a power play goal for 30 straight opportunities before Kyle Quincey finally scored against Washington.
Their penalty killing is brutal at best, giving up two power play goals to Alexander Ovechkin (and another empty-net power play goal to Jason Chimera) against Washington in another loss.
Those three power play goals against dropped Detroit to 21st in the NHL at 80.7 percent on the penalty kill.
So numbers aside, how do they fix the special teams that have been an eyesore since the start of this season?
Bench Kyle Quincey on special teams.
I know he ended the Red Wings power play drought tonight with a marker in the second period, but let's face some facts.
Washington's first power play goal tonight was courtesy of Alexander Ovechkin.
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No surprise; the surprise was how open the Red Wings left him. Quincey, pinching at the blue line (his own blue line might I add) tripped on himself and he was about 25 feet out of position as Ovechkin one-timed the puck into the back of the net.
Quincey's play on the special teams has been terrible as he pinches at the most unideal times on the power play at the offensive blue line, leading to odd-man rushes and breakaways the other way.
Take Jiri Hudler off the point on the power play.
Hudler is listed on NHL.com as weighing 186 pounds. Someone of his weight (and speed) should be darting in and out of the slot looking for a high percentage shot, not shooting from the point, trying to direct traffic.
I realize his value on the point, being able to skate well laterally, but his shooting percentages are better from the slot than from farther out by the point.
Hudler doesn't really have a "bomb" of a shot so to speak, so sticking him on the point renders him next to useless.
Give Brendan Smith some more time at the point on the power play.
Brendan Smith looks good skating on the point. He is also losing the "jitters" on the point. Tonight, he assisted on Detroit's first power play goal in its last 31 tries.
Smith's abilities, which I've outlined here, have defined him as a superior defenseman, and the more time he gets on the point now, the stronger he will be next season when he is a full-time roster player.
Putting Smith at the point would free up Hudler to move into the slot or down low where Hudler is creative at moving the puck behind the net and along the side boards.
Give Kronwall and Stuart a break on the penalty kill.
Nik Kronwall is averaging 22:48 of playing time per game this season, and 2:56 on the penalty kill. Brad Stuart is averaging 21:00 of playing time per game this season, and 3:10 on the penalty kill.
Playing over 20 minutes a game can be hard on anyone, and especially when trying to clear players from the front of the net, penalty killing can get tiring after a while.
Seeing as how Detroit's penalty killing can't seem to come up with the big kills in the big situations, let's try something new and switch up the amount of time that each of them play on the penalty kill.
As Albert Einstein would say, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Changing things up could get the Red Wings back on the right track.
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