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Lack of Special Teams Still Hurting Detroit Red Wings

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Pavel Datsyuk has had a bigger impact on the Detroit Red Wings than Chris Osgood and Sergei Fedorov.

COMMENTARY | It is only five games into the season, but the Detroit Red Wings cannot seem to get their special teams in sync.

After a 5-3 win against the Minnesota Wild on Friday, Jan. 25, it appeared the Red Wings had figured out their power-play woes. They went 2 of 5 with the man advantage.

However, they still took too many penalties (eight), and Minnesota ended up scoring on one of them.

Against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, Jan. 27, the Red Wings only took three penalties. They did give up a goal on their first penalty about 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the game, but they went 0 of 6 on the power play, and even failed to score on a 5-on-3.

Unfortunately, Darren Helm was out of the lineup Sunday with back problems after playing his first game against the Wild. It was obvious the Red Wings sorely missed him. His speed and physical play really strengthens the third line and penalty kill.

So far this season, the Red Wings are 2 of 26 on the power play (28th in the league) and 17 of 25 on the penalty kill (29th in the league). Those numbers are atrocious.

Need to take more shots

I saw the same thing on Sunday that I saw in the first three games: The team is trying to make too many passes on the power play when they should be shooting the puck and looking for rebounds.

That's how they scored their only goal on Sunday. After Damien Brunner took a shot set up by Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen collected the puck after it deflected off Duncan Keith's stick and stuck it between the legs of Corey Crawford.

It wasn't a pretty goal, but it was a goal the Red Wings needed to force overtime and collect at least one point. The Red Wings have out-shot their opponents in the past two games (27-26 and 30-27, respectively), but those shot totals should be closer to 33 to 35.

Take care of the puck

The Red Wings were also too careless with the puck. On Sunday, there were a number of times a turnover in the defensive zone led to a quality scoring chance for Marian Hossa, who couldn't take advantage of them.

Jimmy Howard was able to bail his team out this time. He made 25 saves and gave the Red Wings a chance to win the game with some key stops. It's reassuring to see he is on top of his game after the long layoff.

Enough with the bad news; let's get into some things I did like.

Fourth line outworked the opposition

Early in the game when the Red Wings were down 1-0 to the Blackhawks, the fourth line of Cory Emmerton, Drew Miller and Jordin Tootoo were generating quality scoring chances. Tootoo not only is a physical player, but he also has the ability to get pucks on net.

I've been really happy with his offensive chances so far. I knew he was signed first and foremost for a physical presence, but I did not expect him to generate quality scoring chances night in and night out.

Nothing gets a team more fired up than seeing its fourth line outwork the opposition. Fourth liners generally don't contribute much in the way of goals, so any offensive production a fourth line can get is an added bonus.

Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk continue to produce

Zetterberg had three points in the past two games, and Pavel Datsyuk had a goal and two assists in the game against the Wild.

The pair were split up for Friday's game, and it certainly paid off. Datsyuk did not register a point Sunday, but he continues to do the little things that make him one of the hardest players to play against. He takes the puck away, he sets up teammates, and he hits the open man.

Even when Zetterberg isn't having a mulit-point night, he continues to make a difference. On Sunday, there were numerous times he was surrounded by Blackhawks players, yet he still managed to come out with the puck and muscle his way into the offensive zone.

While the Red Wings may not be producing as much as they would like with Zetterberg and Datysuk on the team, I still like their chances of turning the special teams around.

Tom Mitsos is a Michigan native who has followed the Red Wings and the NHL since the 1993-94 season. He is a high school sports reporter at MLive Media Group. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_mitsos.

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